The European and the Turkish flag in front of the Hagia Sophia (photo: AP)

Turkey's EU Enthusiasm Wanes

In Turkey support for joining the EU has for the first time fallen below 50 per cent – according to the findings of the Euro barometer. The barometer regularly measures public support for the EU among members and applicants. Dorian Jones reports

The European and the Turkish flag in front of the Hagia Sophia (photo: AP)
According to the most recent Euro barometer, support for the EU has steadily fallen from a high of 75 to 47 percent in less than two years

​​For the last year it has recorded a steady decline in support in Turkey since its peak in November 2005 when Turkey finally got the green light to start accession talks. But the honeymoon was short-lived with Ankara facing mounting criticism from EU leaders and commission members on a host of issues, from human rights to the divided island of Cyprus to the country's Muslim identity.

In face of such criticism, the mood of Turkish public opinion has changed.

"We have to think again"

The Istiklal high street is the heart of Istanbul. With its host of bars, clubs and shops – many belonging to European retail chains – this street is the face of modern Turkey and is popular with the city's young and educated population.

Traditionally, they were strongest advocates for the country's EU membership bid, but now many appear to be having second thoughts, like 21-year-old student Melten Savas.

"No, they don't want us, and we know this, because our religion is different, and we have to go faster than other countries but we can't do this. We have to think again about everything, about this country, about Europe, about everything."

"Not in my lifetime"

The accusation of double standards is frequently raised in the Turkish media. Every time European politicians voice opposition to Turkish membership, it invariably makes headline news. Support for the European Union has steadily fallen from a high of 75 to 47 percent in less than two years. And even among supporters of the EU process, like graphic designer Erten Yildiz, there is a realization that it is not going to be easy.

"Europe is a huge power for the world and Turkey can take some positive effects from it as well as the European Union taking some positive effects from Turkey, for sure. But for my generation it is not going to succeed because it will take many years to integrate into the European Union."

There is a joke that can be frequently heard in the cafes of Istanbul, that when a Turk asks God whether Turkey will join the European Union, God replies, "Yes, it will – but not in my lifetime."

Under the weight of growing EU criticism, such humour underscores a public weariness about the accession process.

An EU report on Turkey due this October is predicted to strongly criticize Ankara over the speed of reforms in freedom of expression and its treatment of religious minorities.

Maintaining a constructive attitude

Minister for EU membership, Ali Babacan, says both sides have to change their attitudes.

"We have to be constructive, and the political leadership in the European Union member states has to be more constructive in this sense. Because the benefits for the EU and for Turkey and also for a very wide region is enormous. So we just hope people all understand the benefits of this process in order to ensure Turkey continues in a determined way."

There has been a consensus among all of Turkey's main political parties backing the country's EU membership bid. But with support for the EU falling to less than 50 per cent, opposition parties are increasingly criticizing the membership accession process, just as the EU is demanding even more concessions from the government in Ankara.

With general elections due next year, the government is in the unenviable position of being between a rock and a hard place.

Dorian Jones

© Deutsche Welle 2006

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