What is left of Turkey's enthusiasm for the EU?

By Gizem Ozturk Erdem | 17 March 2011

To quote this document: Gizem Ozturk Erdem, “What is left of Turkey's enthusiasm for the EU? ”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Thursday 17 March 2011, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1071, displayed on 02 June 2023

When the enlargement process of the European Union is mentioned, Turkey is one of the first countries that come to mind. Remarkably, the constant opening and closing of chapters after difficult negotiations fill up the agenda. Nowadays, significant importance is given to public opinion, in particular the Turkish public, one of the most important actors in Turkish politics. The question that needs to be asked is thus the following: what is the Turkish public’s degree of optimism regarding EU-Turkey relations after this endless process of accession negotiations that is intermittently re-launched without ever being concluded? Does the Turkish public, today, actually want Turkey to be a member of the Union? Do the recent claims that Turkey lost its faith in the West reflect the truth?

According to the Transatlantic Trends Survey (2010) issued by the German Marshall Fund (GMF), there has been a recent and significant change in the Turkish people's view on the EU: GMF found that the Turks' positive opinion dropped from 73% in 2004 to 38% in 2010.  In January, under the chairmanship of Prof. Dr. Faruk Sen, the Turkish-German Education and Scientific Research Foundation (TAVAK) carried out a survey among 540 people in six cities. The result was that the Turkish public does not really feel the need to enter the EU. First of all, 60% of the participants answered “no” to the question “do you believe that Turkey is going to be a member of EU?”. To the question whether Turkey needs the EU economically, 72% of the people said no. In other words, it turns out that approximately three quarters of the Turkish population believe that Turkey’s accession to the EU is unnecessary. Another question that was asked in the survey was: “What can be the benefits of EU membership for Turkey?”. 24.5% of the participants answered that “there will be no benefit”. Only 11.1% of the participants thought that Turkey could be closely involved in issues regarding European security and defense.

Recently, the number of people questioning Turkey's membership process increased, not only among Turkish citizens but also among Europeans. For example, Stefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for enlargement, mentioned the possibility of a “train crash” for Turkey's accession process due to the Cyprus problem. The Economist also stated in its special report on Turkey that the country’s European adventure is shaky/undecided. An editor of The Financial Times bluntly stated that the “EU wastes Turkey's time”.

Heinz-Jürgen Axt, a professor at Duisburg-Essen University known for his publications on Turkey, attributes the stagnation of the accession process to two reasons: the first one is the conflict with Greece and Cyprus which blocks the opening of new chapters; the second one is the slowing down of the process of reforms in Turkey. Finding a solution to this long-lasting problem would be a positive and important step towards Turkey's membership. Some commentators however, such as Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in his article published in The Times on November 8th 2010, argue that the Cyprus issue is only used as an excuse by those who oppose Turkey's membership to the EU. Jack Straw added that if the problem is not solved rapidly, Turkey would be pushed towards Iran and the [Arab] south.

While researchers discuss the issue of a decreased commitment of the Turkish people to the EU membership process, the Secretariat General for EU Affairs and the Foreign Ministry of the Turkish Republic continue working on EU accession.

The chief Turkish negotiator, Egemen Bagis, stated that according to a survey conducted by GENAR, a company specialized in public opinion polls, 66,5% of Turkish citizens support EU membership, while 64% do not believe that Turkey will be a member of the EU. These figures are quite close to those presented by TAVAK. For Bagis, this lack of trust in the EU’s promise stems from the visa policy imposed on Turkish nationals. Bagis thinks that the number of people who support the EU process in Turkey would equal the number of Turkish people who trust EU institutions if a fair EU visa policy was developed and a fairer negotiation process was undertaken. The EU also needs to meet Turkish expectations regarding the struggle against terrorism, invite Turkey to EU summits and prevent the Cyprus issue from being politically exploited. Bagis also declared that “Turkey wants full membership. Yet, the biggest hindrance it faces is prejudice, both in Turkey and in Europe.”

In February, a project was developed that seeks to fight these prejudices. Previous projects include the launch of an ambitious communication strategy. In this new project, a collaboration protocol between the Secretariat General for EU Affairs and Turkish Airlines that provides for the distribution of the Secretariat’s publications to the airline’s passengers has been signed. During the signing ceremony, in which Egemen Bagis and the Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee of Turkish Airlines, Hamdi Topcu, took part, Bagis explained that the brochures would present Turkey's contribution to the EU in figures and would probably help change people's opinion of the accession process. The brochures will be given to both Turkish and European passengers and are considered as an attempt to remove prejudices and inform the public about the accession process.

Several questions are now on the agenda: what kind of foreign policy will be crafted by the new government elected next June? Is EU accession going to be a priority?


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Source photo : Turkey-21406200003 World Bank, par World Bank photo collection, sur flickr