Interview: Turks increasingly ‘distrustful’ of EU membership process

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With the European Commission set to publish its annual progress report on Turkey’s progress towards EU accession on 6 November, Turks themselves appear to be increasingly distrustful of the EU executive’s enlargement policy. Turkish Secretary General for EU Affairs Mustafa Oguz Demiralp spoke to EURACTIV Turkey in an interview. 

Public opinion towards the prospect of EU membership has recently suffered a downturn in Turkey, with a recent survey carried out by the German Marshall Fund revealing that just 26% of Turks believe that their country will actually join the EU, compared to 56% of Europeans. Past opinion polls in the country had indicated that a majority of Turks view the prospect of EU membership in a positive light. 

Asked to interpret the change in the public’s attitude, Turkish Secretary General for EU Affairs Mustafa Oguz Demiralp told EURACTIV Turkey that “it is more suitable to describe Turkish public opinion as ‘distrustful’, instead of ‘pessimistic’, towards the EU membership process”. 

Demiralp points to the Commission’s increased references to the EU’s “digestion capacity” – which “wasn’t brought into the foreground as much before as it is in Turkey’s negotiation process” – as a sign that its attitude towards Turkish accession differs from that towards other new members. “This issue hasn’t been a major clause on the agenda of […] previous negotiations” on the enlargement process,” he adds.

He said the country “deserves [EU] membership as soon as it satisfies the requirements of membership.”  

Asked what influences Turkish public opinion, Demiralp says that “without a doubt, EU leaders’ statements related to Turkey’s EU membership bid are one of the major reasons for scepticism towards the EU in Turkey”. Moreover, EU leaders’ habit of using Turkey’s population, geography and culture as arguments for a ‘privileged partnership’ instead of full membership “weaken the Turkish public’s trust in the EU”, he adds. 

He accuses the EU of double standards towards Turkey, and cites French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement that starting negotiations on economic and monetary policy would bring the country closer to EU membership immediately prior to the Commission’s decision not to open this chapter as an example of how this perception influences public opinion. 

Demiralp said: “Turkish public opinion towards EU membership becomes more eager and positive about the membership process if the EU rebuilds its credibility. Also, for its own strategic interests, the EU should change its attitude in this way.” 

To read the interview in full, please click here. 

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