Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Decoding the Rise of Euroskepticism in Turkey

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Decoding the Rise of Euroskepticism in Turkey

Article excerpt

Since 2004 there has been a dramatic drop in the support expressed by the Turkish public for the EU and the Turkish membership. Many factors were at work for this downward trend of Turkish people's perceptions of the EU including the Cyprus policy, the Armenian genocide claims, the EU's treatment of Turkey as a special case, vocal objections raised by the EU leaders as well as the public to Turkey's EU membership, the economic costs of the accession process, nationalist backlash as a result of the resumption of PKK terrorism, mutual rise in negative perceptions of the Muslim and Western world at large in the post-September 11 process. Therefore, amid growing anti-European sentiments in domestic politics it became increasingly difficult for the ruling AKP to sustain the EU reform agenda.

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Paradoxically, since Turkey was granted a date to start accession talks with the EU at the Brussels Summit on December 17, 2004, Turkish-EU relations have been displaying a downward trend. Deterioration of Turkey-EU ties at the official level was paralleled by the drastic drop in the support expressed by the Turkish public for the EU and Turkish membership. Recent surveys confirm this development. According to a study entitled Transatlantic Trends, conducted annually by the German Marshall Fund, the rate of Turkish people saying "EU membership would be a good thing" declined to 40 percent in 2007, an all-time low. Similarly, the Turkish people's positive feelings about the EU have exhibited a downward trend since 2004, falling from 52 percent in 2004 to 26 percent in 2007. (1) Worse than that in a survey carried out by Istanbul's Bilgi University in 2006, a strikingly high number of respondents (52 percent) claimed that the EU tried to disintegrate Turkey. (2)

Double view of Europe

There are more than enough reasons for the growing Euroskepticism in Turkey. In fact, these attitudes stem in part from the Turkish people's deeply-held views about Europe and Europeans. Turkish people traditionally take a dual approach toward Europe. On the one hand, Europe has been a model glorified by the founders of the Turkish Republic to be emulated for the Turkish people. Ataturk's revolutions intended to turn Turkey into a modern Western country along the European model. On the other hand, for some Turkish people, Europe is seen as the source of elements striving to dismember Turkey, a corollary of the long-held conspiracy theory based on the Sevres treaty. According to this theory, which is deeply rooted in the collective memory of the Turkish public, foreign powers are plotting to wipe out the Turkish state. Therefore, in normal times when Turkey's relations with Europe are good, Europe is idealized and praised. But when Turkish-European ties worsen, the negative aspect of European image as a potential source of threat is prioritized on the part of the Turkish people. Thus, it would be a good starting point to place Turkish-European relations within this larger picture and then move on to analyze the dramatic increase in Euroskepticism among the Turkish public.

The Cyprus Issue

Some element of nationalist backlash in Turkey relates to the EU's stance on the Cyprus issue. The EU lost credibility with the Turkish people as an honest broker on the Cyprus issue following the referenda on the Annan Plan for its reunification held on the island in April 2004. Turkish Cypriots felt punished although they supported the Annan Plan in an overwhelming majority as the international embargo on the Northern part continued. In contrast, Turkish public opinion strongly believes that the Greek Cypriots were rewarded as they were allowed to join the EU, even when the bulk of the Greek community in Cyprus rejected the reunification of the island on the basis of the Annan Plan. Finally, at the 2006 Summit, EU leaders made it clear that Turkey had to open up its ports and airports to the vessels of Cyprus for the progress of the talks in accordance with the Additional protocol of the Customs Union, signed also by Turkey. …

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