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February 12, 2013, Tuesday

Europe vs. Asia; elite vs. public

The İstanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) recently conducted a public opinion survey to ascertain the sentiments of the Turkish people concerning their country's membership in the European Union. The survey is timely because out of exasperation, the bold prime minister of Turkey has openly declared his inclination to change course in foreign policy. He has announced his dislike of the capriciousness of key European countries to their vow of membership principles and introduced the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an alternative to the EU should Turkey be systematically denied membership.

Rising national self-confidence combined with politicians' generous criticism of the EU's expectations for reform of weak standards of human, legal and political rights have emboldened Turkey's political leadership.

It is in this atmosphere that EDAM's survey was carried out. Here are some basic findings:

The participants were asked the question: "This year is the 50th anniversary of the Ankara Agreement signed between Turkey and the European Union. It is also the eighth year of accession negotiations. Which of the following policies do you think Turkey should follow in the next five years?” While one-third (33 percent) of the public thinks that Turkey should persist with its aim of attaining full membership, the remaining two-thirds agrees that Ankara should abandon its pursuit of full membership.

There are also differences of opinion among Turkish Euroskeptics. Twenty percent support the idea that Turkey should abandon full membership and should formulate a new relationship with the EU based on common interests. Combining this group with the residual supporters of membership, it can be stated that more than 50 percent of the public views partnership with the EU positively.

One-quarter of the public believes that full membership should be abandoned and that a new relationship with the EU is not needed, while another 15 percent thinks that if full membership is abandoned, a rival regional organization should be established.

There are also significant differences of opinion with regards to the future of Turkey's relations with the EU among the constituents of different parties. While 34 percent of Justice and Development Party (AKP) voters believe that the country should “persist with its aim of full membership,” this falls to 30 percent among main opposition center-left Republican People's Party (CHP) voters and to 15 percent among Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) voters. The predominantly Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) voters are apparently avid defenders of the EU goal, with a support level of 88 percent. They believe that the EU's higher legal and political standards will put an end to the so-called “Kurdish problem” and that the practice of local government will enable a sort of autonomy.

There appear to be differences of opinion on what to do if the membership path is abandoned. While 27 percent of CHP voters agree that “relations based on common interests should be established,” among MHP voters, 21 percent agree with this. While 40 percent of MHP voters think that Turkey should act on its own if the full membership goal has been abandoned, this falls to 27 percent among CHP voters. Those who aim to establish a new partnership in the region to rival the EU are roughly equal between all three major parties at around 15 percent.

EDAM has also fielded the same question to a panel of foreign policy experts. With the participation of 202 experts, it was seen that the experts have very diverging views from public opinion and agreed overwhelmingly -- 87 percent -- that Turkey should maintain its goal of full membership in the EU. Other alternatives found little support among the expert community. There is thus a major difference of opinion between foreign policy experts and public opinion. While public opinion is divided on the issue of full membership in the EU, experts almost unanimously agree that the country should persist with its goal of full membership. This issue is indicative of the preferences of the elite and the public, as well as the Turkish-Kurdish ethnic divide in Turkey.

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