The other side of the coin: the growing opposition in turkey against to the european union accession

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As one of the main institutions of the EU, European Parliament has 766 members from 28 member states. The number of representatives of countries is roughly determined by population of the each country. As the decision making body of the EU, the decisions of the Council of the European Union consist with 352 votes in total. The distribution of votes79 for each Member State is again based largely on their population. By simplifying; a country, Germany for example, with large population has more seats in European Parliament and more words to say besides being more effective on decision making procedures for the future of the EU in the Council.

Additionally, as a candidate state, Turkey with its large population is always an open question for the European Union. If the system of the EU will continue like today by considering the probable membership status of Turkey in the future, the role of Turkey will be effective and powerful in the EU just because of its population. After 54 years, one of the most important aims of the Turkish foreign policy is still to take its place next to other member countries and have full membership of the European Union. By taking into account the changes and improvements which Turkey had been making (and still continues to make) to actualize this aim; nothing can change the fact that Turkey has been waiting since 1959. Among the dialogues, agreements, foreign policies and politicians one of the crucial actors; one of the most crucial actors are generally forgotten: people, and namely their opinions.

Considering this long-term waiting time; the Turkish public opinion about the EU accession process of Turkey should be examined more detailed. Therefore, the following chapters focus on the interest level of Turkey to the EU accession by presenting the changes since 2004 and examining the augmentation of people who are against membership to the EU.

V.1. General Standpoint of Turkey to the European Union Accession
Graph- 5: Referendum Tendencies of Individuals

in Turkey on European Union Membership80

Source: Turkish Statistical Institute, Life Satisfaction Survey 2012. Ankara, Turkey: April 2013
In accordance with the researches of Turkish Statistical Institute, public support to the EU accession in Turkey is dramatically decreasing. The graph presents the referendum tendencies81 of individuals in Turkey to the EU accession from 2004 to 2012. Public support to the EU accession was sharply declining from 70,2% to 53% between 2004 and 2006. The tendency level, approximately, continued at the same level for five years; and then fell again to 44,8% in 2011. By comparing the years between 2004 and 2012; the drop of tendency level is more noticeable with 24,8%.

In contrast, the percentage of people who are against to the membership is continuously increasing. Even though there is a slight decrease in 2009 and 2010; the tendency level against to the EU accession reached its maximum level in 2012 by 31%. With regard to people who have no idea, the level has steadily increased until 2011; but decreased again in 2012 below the level in 2010. It seems that they mostly joined those against membership.

By taking into consideration this nine years period, the result becomes more impressive, especially when the events and statistical data are examined together. As it was mentioned in the previous chapter, European Union started full membership negotiations with Turkey at the end of 2005. The first significant rise on the level of against membership appeared in 2006. In other words, the support to EU accession was higher before the negotiations started. On July 22, 2007 general election of representatives was held that resulted victory of Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) which came in power with the general elections in 2002. Even though there was a slight increase of support in 2007, it did not make any difference in general.
Moreover, general election was held on June 12, 2011 in Turkey that AKP was selected again for the third time. Only one month later, Ministry for EU Affairs was established. The second largest decline with a 7% reduction in public support emerged at the same year. In this context, it is questionable whether these events were effective on public opinion about the EU.
On the other hand, the graph reflects the overall data. Therefore, referendum tendencies of individuals in Turkey on European Union membership should be also analyzed according to age groups and level of education to comprehend better the approaches of people who are for and against to membership.

Table - 4: Referendum Tendencies of Individuals in Turkey

on European Union Membership by Age Groups (%)

Age Groups and their proportion in population (%)

For membership

Against membership

No idea




































Source: Turkish Statistical Institute. “Life Satisfaction Survey, 2011” and “Population by age group and sex, 2011.”
The table comprises the tendency level to the EU accession by age groups. Except the age group of 65 and over, referendum tendencies of individuals from 18 to 64 year old meet approximately at the same level. The percentages of the people who have no idea are increasing with age while the situation is the opposite on the people who do not want to be a member of the EU. Age group of 25-34 excel with 32,2 % by having the highest level against membership.
Table - 5: Referendum Tendencies of Individuals in Turkey

on European Union Membership by Level of Education (%)

Level of education and their proportion in population (%)

For membership

Against membership

No idea






Literate without diploma





Primary school

(35 2%)




Junior high school and equivalent





High school and equivalent





Higher education





Source: Turkish Statistical Institute. “Life Satisfaction Survey, 2011” and “Formal education completed and sex ratio”
As the last table on referendum tendencies of individuals in Turkey on EU membership, the data were prepared in accordance with their level of education. The stream level of the people who do not know whether against or not, was stated in grapgh-1 as 27,1% that mostly based on the people with primary education or less. The support to the EU accession goes up in parallel with the level of education. Essentially, the same sentence can be also used for the people who are against to the membership. In general, however, educational level of people in Turkey consists of primary and high school graduates.83 Considering this fact, primary and high school graduates people are shaping the general trend of the referendum on the EU membership. Therefore, need to focus on these groups, especially when the Turkish support to the EU accession is dramatically declining.
Otherwise, it is important to indicate the factors that shape the public opinion in Turkey. The sources of information on the EU that are used by Turkish people presented in the national report of Turkey 2011.84 In accordance with result of the report, the media has the greatest impact on public opinion, especially television. The primary source of information on European matters was determined as television with 78%. The second effective element was the press with 38% and then internet with 19%. Considering the effective use of the media by Turkish government, a decline on public support to the EU accession in Turkey can be expected as a result of the recent statements from the members of government which are going to be presented in the next chapter.
At the beginning of 2013, there have been some changes in the attitude of Turkey towards to the EU. In the speeches of government officials, there have been powerful discourses, urgent demands, complains and clear signs of seeking a different way than the EU which has led to a new atmosphere between the relations of the EU and Turkey.
As it was pointed out before, media has a strong influence on the thoughts of the people in Turkey. Taking into consideration the decreased interest of Turkey to the EU accession, it is crucial to analyse the speeches of government officials for understanding the interest level of Turkey to the EU and expectations in the future. Therefore, the chapter will present the statements that were made by the highest level officials of Turkish government from February to April 2013. The declarations are compiled in accordance with two major topics that were separated as the EU accession process and Customs Union.
V.2.1. Accession Negotiations of Turkey to the European Union
Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited three important central European countries, namely Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, to review and strengthen bilateral ties of Turkey with them on February 3-6, 2013. Erdoğan made several critiques on the EU accession process of Turkey via giving messages directed at EU officials by answering questions the Turkish journalists who accompanied him and also at the press conferences in Czech Republic.
According to his visit to Czech Republic on February 4; Turkish PM Erdoğan met with his Czech counterpart Petr Nečas, mainly to talk about the growing economic cooperation between two countries. PM Nečas showed the support of Czech Republic to Turkey on the EU matters by saying “Not only are our two countries close allies in NATO, Turkey is a key partner not just for the Czech Republic but for other EU member states in the region. We believe that if Turkey can fulfill the respective accession criteria it deserves the chance to become a fully-fledged member of the alliance”. By indicating the relations between Turkey and the EU, PM Erdoğan said that “Delaying the accession process further is unforgivable. Our cooperation and solidarity with European countries will of course continue even if they do not accept us. But we are urging the EU once again: let us conclude this process now”.85
On the other hand, Erdoğan elucidated the Turkish journalists, who had been accompanying him during his visit in Czech Republic, about his thoughts to join some international organizations, namely Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that also known as the Shanghai Five. Besides underlining that these organizations are not an alternative to EU membership, he expressed his discomfort about the EU accession process by criticizing the EU due to slow down the membership negotiations of Turkey. “Turkey's membership process began in 1959 and was accelerated in 1963 and we have been patient all this time. How far we have come? When you look, there is the customs union (1996) and the Helsinki summit (1999), when Turkey was given candidate status (2005) and the official start of Turkey's negotiations. We can call these three important steps. Except these three, they only engaged us. Has any other country been treated like this? No. This is in essence disrespect to Turkey. What is more natural than us expressing this situation? ... But is the EU a sine qua non for Turkey? Let me say that too, it is not something we can't do without. It is not the end of the world if they don't accept us to the EU. And the world is still here. We are still continuing on our path in a stable manner.” During the conversations with Turkish journalists, Erdoğan also emphasized that on EU matters the most important steps were taken by Justice and Development Party (AKP) government after Tansu Çiller’s86 government. He added to remind the critiques to her after signing the Customs Union Agreement that “And so many attacked her when the customs union agreement was signed”87 However, it is significant to specify that the Islamist political party, Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP), was criticizing Tansu Çiller and, at that time, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a member of RP. (Republic of Turkey Prime Ministry Records)
Furthermore, another comment about the slow negotiation process to the EU accession came from Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on March 31, 2013. “If the EU gives us passage, we'll walk on that path as per our strategic goals. If it blocks our path, they go their way, we go our way.”88
In addition to the EU negotiations, Turkish President Abdullah Gül also criticized the EU, especially about the visa policy of EU, at the Lithuania-Turkey Business Forum in Vilnius. By stressing the problems of Turkish business people, he said that “Visa procedures unfortunately take too long and this is a big injustice. What we request from Lithuanian officials, primarily from President Dalia Grybauskaite, is to discuss in meetings, which Turkey doesn’t attend, that this is not fair and to take steps that we expect ... It is a shortcoming for the EU not to sign a visa exemption agreement with a big economy like Turkey while signing it with Brazil, which is a Latin American country, and with countries which haven’t even started membership negotiations”. Gül also added that “In 2005, the European Union members’ presidents and prime ministers started Turkey’s full membership negotiation process. For sure, it is our right to expect all member states to show loyalty to their signatures”. 89

V.2.2. Customs Union between Turkey and the European Union
Turkish Economy Minister, Zafer Çağlayan spoke at the meeting with Deputy Premier, Germany’s Economy and Finance Minister of Baden Wurttemberg, Dr. Nils Schmid on March 25, 2013 in Ankara. At press conference, by underlining the difficulties faced by Turkey due to the European Union Customs Union membership Çağlayan said that “Difficulties arising from visas, the quotas placed on the free movement of Turkish products, and the fact that Turkey cannot sign Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with countries who have already FTAs with the EU all cause unfair competition for Turkey”. 90 He also stressed that “The EU allows businessmen from many non-member countries to enter countries of the union, while Turkey is exempt from this list. … This is applying double standards and is unfair”. By taking into consideration that the EU does not include Turkey in FTAs with third countries, he continued his speech “I would like to express that if the current situation continues, we may have to put the customs union with the EU on the table for reassessment, as it is now working against Turkey”.91 He described his concerns on the negotiations between the EU and United States of America (USA) that will affect the market of Turkey in a negative way. By having a very big market (USA), Çağlayan believes that a prospective FTA between the USA and EU will cause unfair competition that can damage the Turkish economy.
Two days later, Zafer Çağlayan made a similar statement at meeting of automotive industrialists, “The Customs Union has begun to work completely against Turkey. Under these circumstances, to switch to a Free Trade Deal would be more in line with Turkey’s interests”. Additionally, Turkish Economy Minister Çağlayan clearly emphasized his attitude in his speech to a newspaper by saying “If this system aggrieves us then we tell the European Union: Let’s revise this system, lift the visas, lift the quotas on our goods and say ‘Turkey is also a side in this deal,’ while making free trade deals with other countries. Or we could leave the Customs Union and you could make a free trade deal with us”.92
By pointing out that Turkey “should negotiate new terms or pull out of the deal with the EU”, he also said “This has now become an agreement of servitude. At this point, Turkey is, unfortunately, getting shafted by the customs agreement that I had supported in the past”. However, Minister of State and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who is former Minister of Economy as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared in an interview with Wall Street Journal Turkey on April 2, by addressing the speeches of Çağlayan that “It's not that easy to say we're angry and we're out ... He who rises in fury reaps damage from his fall. We always have to think strategically”. 93

The statement of Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan reminds the speech of the current President of Turkey Abdullah Gül at the Turkish Parliament on March 8, 1995 when he was a member of the Islamist political party, Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP). The statement was made after Turkey became a member to the European Union Customs Union. By underlining the greatest importance of the agreement, he emphasized that RP was the only party which was against to the agreement of customs union because of signing without asking to the people and informing them about the details. Gül blamed the government that signed the agreement without making any referendum. He continued that “Turkey did not join to the European Customs Union with its efforts. I explain this in here. This is completely ideological, entirely a political event. This ideological stance, currently applies to both the rulers of Turkey and Europeans. It is certain that Turkey will not enter the European Union; this is said by Europeans, this is said by all the prominent politicians in Europe, this is said by all the European philosophers. Because; the European Union is a Christian Union. We do not say this; former head of the European Union Delors says this, the former British Prime Minister says this, everybody says this in Europe, everybody knows”. (Grand National Assembly of Turkey Records, 8 March 1995: 61) The statement of today’s president of Turkey can be considered as an old dated argument. However, the statement was presented to show that still such statements are effective in terms of how Turkey “feels”. For example, in recent years, Deputy Prime Minister Responsible for the Economy, Ali Babacan stated that “Turkey has been made to feel unwanted in Europe”.94 Sometimes it can also be seen on the titles of the book (e.g.) “Turkey, step-sister of the European Family”.95

These extremely important declarations, which were made by the highest level of the Turkish government, should be taken into consideration and carefully evaluated. As well known, Eurobarometer makes numerous public opinion surveys on the issues related with the EU throughout the member and candidate states. By taking into account reports of its reports; in contrast to EU countries, Turkish people trust more to their national government and parliament. In accordance with the result of this report, people in Turkey trust the EU 21% while the percentages of trust level are doubled to the Turkish government with 44% and parliament with 45%. (Eurobarometer Standard EB 78, November 2012: 2) These degrees of confidence show how the Turkish government and parliament can be effective on public opinion.

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