EU'S TURKEY CRITICS LOSING POPULARITY

Today's Zaman
15 August 2009, Saturday

The impact of the constant objection by French and German leaders to
Turkey's European Union membership drive has been revealed through a
public survey that showed a significant loss of confidence in these
two countries among the public.

According to the survey, conducted this month by the Ankara-based
International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), France is
third on the list of countries regarded as a threat by the public,
while there has been a large decrease in Turkish people's opinion of
Germany as a friendly country.

Over half the 1,100 interviewees in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and
Bursa -- 56 percent in all -- stated that the biggest obstacle to
Turkey's entry into the EU was "religious and cultural differences
and historical prejudices against Turkey."

The EU opened accession talks with Ankara -- an EU candidate since
1999 -- in October 2005, but these have been progressing slowly amid
opposition from France and Germany. The unresolved Cyprus dispute
and a slowdown of reforms in Turkey are other factors hampering the
accession process.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela
Merkel are the most high-profile European politicians opposed to
Turkey's accession. Sarkozy claims Turkey does not belong in Europe,
while Merkel promotes a "privileged partnership" that falls short of
membership, a formula Ankara categorically rejects. In Berlin in May,
Merkel and Sarkozy made a joint statement declaring that they shared
a common position regarding Turkey's accession to the EU, in that it
should be offered a privileged partnership, not full EU membership.

According to a USAK survey held in October 2004, when asked which
country was the biggest threat to Turkey, only 2.5 percent of Turkish
people named France. This figure has gradually increased; in December
2005, it was 11.40 percent but had increased to 12.09 percent this
month, placing France third overall. France followed the United
States, which topped the list this month, the second country on the
list being Israel.

Noting that France is the only EU member in the first three countries
on the threat list, USAK experts have suggested that this should not
be seen as a surprise due to Sarkozy's firm opposition to Turkey's EU
membership in addition to his country's support for the recognition
of killings of Anatolian Armenians during World War I as genocide.

Germany has also suffered a decrease in the Turkish public's
confidence. In October 2004, 8.2 percent and in December 2005 4.8
percent of Turkish people said they regarded Germany as a friendly
country. Yet, in the survey this month, only 0.64 percent of Turkish
people called Germany a friendly country.

Last month, in an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan recalled that three-quarters of Turkish people
were in favor of EU membership when the accession negotiations were
first opened in 2005, while a recent survey showed that now 51.9
percent of Turkish people would vote for EU membership if a referendum
were held.

"We came to this point upon 'nos,' 'perhaps' and 'buts.' Everything
will change if Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy say, 'OK,
we're ready to accept Turkey when it fulfills all the recommended
conditions.' Even this would lead to a rise in that percentage among
people," Erdogan said.

Despite a considerable lack of confidence in the two leading members
of the EU, the survey revealed that Turkish people see their future in
the EU. When asked where Turkey's future lays, 56.36 percent replied
the EU. In October 2004, this figure was over 61.04 percent.

US: most feared, most trusted The USAK survey revealed that the United
States still tops the list of countries which are regarded as a threat
in Turkish public opinion. Nevertheless, USAK experts stated that
when a decrease from 29.80 percent to 25.45 percent is considered
between the December 2005 survey and the one conducted this month,
it is possible to say that Turkish people have been giving a chance to
the new policies launched by President Barack Obama's administration.

Interestingly enough, the same survey, at the same time, showed that
Turkish people have great confidence in support from the United States
in case of major difficulties. A quarter of interviewees replied the
United States when asked which country would lend the biggest support
to Turkey in the case of internal conflict and natural disaster.

Only 11 percent of Turkish people, meanwhile, replied Azerbaijan to
the same question although Azerbaijan topped the list of countries
regarded as most friendly by the Turkish people.

USAK experts noted that the United States' and similar countries'
economic power, capable of offering sufficient assistance in case of
need, is the most probable reason for this apparent contradiction.

The survey, meanwhile, also included questions regarding Turkish
people's approval of the way the country's foreign policy is
conducted. Almost half, 49.09 percent find Turkish foreign policy
successful, while 47.27 percent either replied neutrally or said it is
"unsuccessful."

According to the survey, the priorities in people's expectations of
foreign policy are maintenance of security and economic interests.

USAK also asked interviewees whether they believed that a high number
of states were drawing up plans for disintegrating their country. The
number of affirmative replies to this question stood at 64 percent
in October 2004, at 72 percent in December 2005 and at 54.55 percent
this month.

Although there is a decrease in this figure according to
previous years, this month's results still show a serious lack of
self-confidence amongst society, USAK experts have warned.