But, sadly enough, Turkey's EU membership is no longer received as enthusiastically by the Turkish public as it was in the past. Turkey's booming self-confidence, thanks to the country's good economic performance in recent years, it appears, has made a significant portion of the public feel no need for the EU membership process. But is this really the case? Do we no longer need the EU? I do not think so.
As a matter of fact, the main driving force behind Turkey's economic development is the sheer volume of its trade with EU member countries. Moreover, I believe Turkey's economic, political and social reform and renovation processes have been and are being undertaken with the enthusiasm and courage offered by its EU membership perspective. It is a historical reality that when the country's EU membership bid languishes, Turkey's determination and resolve to make reforms and tackle the critical issues wanes simultaneously. Unlike what some short-sighted leaders believe, just as the EU needs Turkey in order to boost its strategic and political potential, Turkey is in need of the EU membership, or at least the continuation of the membership process, in order to solve its problems and emerge as a peaceful, prosperous and stable country.
But it appears that a significant portion of Turkey's public does not agree with me. Surveys suggest they have lost their enthusiasm in this regard. The "Europe Perceptions" survey, recently conducted by Boğaziçi University's Center for European Studies reveals how Turkey's perceptions of the EU have radically changed since 2003. This survey unfortunately pinpoints an increasing alienation of the Turkish public from the EU bid and, in a sense, offers an explanation for why Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, known to change his policies depending on the results of the frequent opinion polls he sponsors, has for some time been refraining from making any reference to the EU membership process. This change in the popular perceptions, largely attributable to the detrimental effects of Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's collective efforts on the process, must be reverted. In this context, both political and social leaders in Turkey and European leaders have major responsibilities.
According to the above-mentioned survey, the rate of Turks who have positive perceptions of the EU has fallen from 69.3 percent in 2003 to 47.1 percent this year. The decline of the EU as a political union has also correlated with a negative impact on the popular perceptions of about Europe in general. The rate of Turkish citizens who consider Turkey as geographically part of Europe has decreased from 70 to 46 percent.
Despite the fact that Europe used to be perceived as a haven for freedoms -- even for religious life and rights -- 64 percent of Turkish citizens today nurture the concern that Turkey's EU membership may undermine religious values and spoil the youth's morality. This indicates an at least 10-percent increase from ten years ago. The rate of Turkish citizens who say, "EU membership will result in Turkey's partition” has risen from 41.8 percent in 2003 to 54 percent today. And those who believe Turkey will never become a member of the EU represent 32 percent of the people interviewed. Twenty-one percent, on the other hand, believe Turkey's membership will not occur during their lifetime. Furthermore, since 2003, the rate of the Turkish citizens who would say “yes” to a referendum for EU membership has dramatically declined from 74.4 percent to 51 percent. Although many Europeans fear Turks would flock to the EU if Turkey becomes a member, the survey finds only 14 percent of Turkish citizens plan to move to a European country in case of membership.
This picture invariably tells us one thing: both Turkey and the EU are on the brink of missing a historic chance. Despite the fact that Turkey's EU membership is capable of bridging the gap between the East and West, Islam and Christianity, Asia and Europe and the North and the South, the survey sadly unmasks the sociopolitical basis for this membership is diminishing. This decline in popular enthusiasm to join the EU, largely attributable to certain European leaders' lacking strategic vision and their insistence on furthering their personal short-term and populist interests, is paving the way for major damages, the price of which will be paid by future generations. These leaders who have smothered the enthusiasm mutually felt for Turkey's EU membership must quickly take some actions to re-ignite it. In particularly, France has this chance with President François Hollande at its helm, and whether it will make the best out of this opportunity is yet to be seen. I hope Germany quickly evolves into this position with or without Merkel.
In this context, the message the Nobel Committee sent to the EU about Turkey's significance during the Nobel Prize ceremony must be harkened by everyone. As he was extending the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU leaders, the head of the Nobel Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, underlined that Turkey is crucial to peace in the Middle East and across the world. Although the original text of his speech did not include it, Jagland inserted several sentences into his speech to stress the importance of the developments in Turkey for world peace. It is extremely significant that this message was given at a ceremony attended by Merkel, Hollande, leaders of all EU member countries excluding the UK, President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
Jagland, who is also the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, stressed that the aim of EU membership had provided Turkey a guideline for reform. Stressing that reforms have strengthened Turkey's democracy, Jagland said success in the process was very important for both the Middle East and the world as a whole. “After the new government, headed by the [Justice and Development Party] AKP, won a clear parliamentary majority, the aim of EU membership provided a guideline for the process of reform in Turkey. There can be no doubt that this has contributed to strengthening the development of democracy there. This benefits Europe, but success in this respect is also important to developments in the Middle East, and therefore also for world peace,” said Jagland.
It is our hope that certain EU member countries and leaders that have prevented the opening of about half of 35 chapters Turkey should have been opened as part of its membership negotiations with the EU will lend an ear to this call for the sake of the regional and world peace.