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January 28, 2013, Monday

Uncertainty regarding EU membership is increasing

Last week the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) published an interesting public opinion survey about the attitudes of Turkish citizens on Turkey's potential membership in the European Union. While I was preparing to write a column on the findings of this survey, I read in Today's Zaman the striking statement made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Turkey's EU membership and a possible alternative.

Let's first start with the prime minister's statement -- then I will be back to the survey.

According to Today's Zaman, Erdoğan speaking to reporters during a televised program on Friday said Turkey is now seeking alternate options amid fading hopes regarding the EU process in light of the adamant opposition to Turkey's membership by a number of EU member countries. Erdoğan also added that “Turkey is seriously considering being part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO].”

Wikipedia defines SCO as an intergovernmental mutual-security organization that was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. I do not need to explain at length the reasons why the SCO is far from an alternative to the EU. First of all, the SCO is not an integrated economic zone like the EU, which represents a market worth $17 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) on Turkey's doorstep.

It is also not an alternative to NATO as a mutual security organization, at least not in the foreseeable future, nor is it a model of democracy to envy.

Erdoğan is probably aware of these facts. This statement could be seen as a means of pressuring the “adamant opposition,” signaling the threat that the EU can definitely lose Turkey. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that Ankara has seriously started to consider the option of an exit from the EU membership process. If I am right, we have to admit that Ankara should also consider some alternatives to EU membership.

When I heard of Erdoğan's statement on SCO membership, I was reminded of what Russian Ambassador Vadim Lukov, councilor of President Vladimir Putin for the G-8 and BRICS -- an association of emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa --  told me during a workshop in France last autumn (see my column of Sept. 3, “BRICS a challenge to the supremacy of the West”). He said that Erdoğan probably told Putin in Moscow that Turkey intended to enhance cooperation with BRICS and become the sixth member in the association.

This eventual membership would certainly be a more effective option than the SCO to rise against the EU, if this is Erdoğan's real aim.

Be that as it may, Erdoğan seeking alternatives to the EU is perfectly in line with the majority of Turkish opinion. EDAM asked if in the next five years Turkey should

a. persist with EU membership (33.3 percent said yes)

b. abandon the membership track but formulate a new relationship based on mutual interest (19.7 percent said yes)

c. no need for a new relationship (25.7 percent said yes)

d. create a rival organization to the EU (14.5 percent said yes)

This is sad, particularly for the “experts” like me defending the option of persisting (in EDAM's survey 87 percent of these “experts” opted for persevering), but we have to admit that the majority of Turks (not Kurds, since 88 percent of the voters for the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] declared being in favor of membership) have become averse to EU membership.

The reasons for this aversion are well known: The majority of Turks have lost their patience amid the war of attrition led by certain “adamant opposition” against Turkish EU membership, but we also witnessed during recent years the rise of a hardly justified self-confidence. Now, two-thirds of Turkish citizens are obviously euroskeptic, but this majority does not agree on an alternative. In fact, the three options other than membership reveal the ideological cleavages across the Turkish public. The partisans of “a new relationship based on mutual interest” can be considered as the people wishing Turkey to be anchored in the West but not ready to dilute national sovereignty in the EU. The people opting for both “no need for a new relationship” and “create a rival organization” (all together about 40 percent of the responses) should be considered hawkish nationalists. Not very surprising!

Some time ago Prime Minister Erdoğan had declared that time is running out and if by 2023 -- which became a fateful date for Turkey due to obscure reasons -- Turkey had not secured its EU membership, this page would definitely have to be turned. This cannot be an empty promise this time. I am afraid that we are slowly advancing towards an uncertain and troubled future.

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