Is there still faith in Europe among Turks?

, by Pauline Sauvage, translated by Sarah Declercq

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Is there still faith in Europe among Turks?

It happened last 25th January. Recep Tyyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, invited by the Turkish television channel Kanal 2, comes back on the evasive proposals of Vladimir Putin held in July, when the latter had asked him ‘not without humour’ to ‘ join the OSC (Organisation of Shangai Cooperation)’ and forget the European Union. Even if then, Mr. Erdogan just laughed politely, his tone changed a few months later and he confesses on the same TV channel that this hypothesis falls within the scope of ‘serious’ and of ‘intention’. He even states that Turkey shares common values with the countries member of an organization which proved to be an alternative to the EU and affirms : “the group of five of Shangai is better and stronger…”.

Is the wind turning the other side of the European Union?

Th EU which is currently experiencing one of the most important crisis in its history, is not waiting to respond via the bias of Angela Merkel. The German Chancellor takes care before her trip to Turkey in late February – the first in three years – to announce the relaunch of negotiations for Turkey to join one day the European Union. “These negotiations have trampled a bit lately and I am in favour of opening a new chapter in the negotiations so we can move a bit forward”. Then however she points out to be ‘sceptical’ about the outcome, without doubt preoccupied with the German electorate still largely hostile to Turkish membership in the EU: According to a recent survey, 60% of them are opposed.

The long waiting makes the Turks hesitant

But what about the opinion of the Turks? Turkey submitted its demand for membership in the European Union on 14th April 1987 (then the European Community). The issue of membership has long been delayed until 2005, at the start of negotiations (the last chapter was opened in 2010 on food security). Officially, Turkey is thus still in ‘negotiations’, a term which keeps it in an intermediate status which is not to all Turks’ taste. Already in September 2010, a survey reported that only 38% of Turks still supported their country’s accession to the EU, against 73% in 2004 and 63% thought their country would never enter the EU. The doubts crystallize mainly among the Turkish youth; in fact half of the 75 million inhabitants is younger than 30 years and young people have always known the country as a potential candidate since 2005. We see and describe the possible accession as an ‘illusion’, ‘they laugh with us’, or worse; ‘we’ve had enough’, so says a Turkish friend explaining that he saw more disadvantages than advantages to joining the EU: the economy at half mast, devaluation of the euro (the Greek examples scares), a fear of rejection even within the EU (Turkey would have the largest population of the European Union) and fear of an intrusion into the internal affairs of the country versus the freedom of movement as only positive gain.

A number of issues still pending

Even if the Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, has warned that “if Turkey is not a member by 2023, we turn away from the European Union”, there is still a number of things essentially ‘historical’ or ‘international’ compromising on the future of Turkey in Europe.

The Kurdish issue, recently restarted after the murder of three PKK militants in Paris last 10th January (Turkey does not officially recognise the minorities including the 10 to 12 million Kurds facing a strong repression in the seventies, which led to the creation of a separatist movement: the PKK), is only one to add to the long list of Turkish impasses; the ongoing conflict with Cyprus, EU Member State (Turkey still militarily occupies a part of the island and supports the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus, not internationally recognised) or the Armenian genocide in April 1915 by the Ottoman government, still current in France after the Senate vote on the law condemning its negation (and Erdogan who qualified this law as ‘racist’). The European Parliament itself has recognized the genocide character of the massacre of 300 000 to 1 million Armenians. If Angela Merkel in January said to be ready to ‘reset the counters to zero’ regarding the Cyprus issue, the sensitive issues of Turkey continue certainly to harm itself, at least in the eyes of the EU Member States.

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