European leaders offered a guarded response to the referendum result granting the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sweeping new powers, although some senior EU figures said it was the end of the country’s decade-long attempt to join the bloc.
In a newspaper interview, the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said that if Ankara were to bring back the death penalty as Erdoğan had suggested on Sunday, the move would be “synonymous with the end of the European dream”.
“Any decision [about joining the EU] will not be on the agenda anytime soon. At any rate, joining would not work right now.,” he said.
According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, 51.4% of Turkish voters cast their ballot in support of expanding the powers of the presidency, while the no vote had 48.6% support.
Several Turkish opposition groups have claimed irregularities during the voting process, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Monday that the referendum fell short of international standards.
Gabriel issued a joint statement with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, suggesting Erdoğan show restraint, as election observers criticised the lack of a level playing field for the two sides during the campaign.
“The narrow result of the vote shows how deeply split the Turkish society is,” Merkel and Gabriel said. “This implies a big responsibility for the Turkish government and President Erdoğan personally.”
Merkel and Gabriel said that as an OSCE member and an EU candidate country, Turkey needed to consider those concerns.
The French president, François Hollande also said that if Turkey reinstates the death penalty, it would “constitute a rupture” with Turkey’s pledges to respect human rights as part of efforts to join European institutions.
The president of the European commission, Jean Claude–Juncker, said he would study the OSCE’s findings, but called for “the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus” when making the changes to the constitution enabled by the referendum result.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s party, the largest political bloc in the European parliament, of which Juncker and Merkel are members, issued a statement saying Turkey’s accession to the EU was no longer a viable option.
The German MEP said: “What is clear is that the Turkish government has opted for a course away from the rule of law and from democracy. “Apparently, this is supported by a small majority of Turkish citizens. We must respect that.
“The referendum is a historic event. We need to re-evaluate the situation and draw conclusions. We need a reboot in relations, a new approach to a partnership between friendly neighbours.
“We should offer Turkey a thematic partnership, for example on the fight against terrorism, migration and economic policy, as well as student and cultural exchange. However, this also means that Turkey’s EU membership is off the table.”
International observers from the Council of Europe and the OSCE said the referendum campaign was conducted on an “unlevel playing field” and the vote count itself was marred by the late procedural changes that removed key safeguards.