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Today's Zaman - June 2, 2011

Sixty-nine percent of Turks support Turkey's European Union membership, although relations with the EU are stagnant, and Turks regard relations with the EU as the country's most important foreign policy issue, according to a recent survey


The survey “Foreign Policy Perceptions in Turkey,” conducted on Dec. 6-14 last year by KA Research and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) with 1,000 respondents, found that the most supportive region for the country's EU membership is southeast Anatolia with 91 percent of those polled, followed by east Anatolia with 87 percent. The lowest support for the country's EU membership comes from central Anatolia with 58 percent.

“Support for Turkey's EU membership in these regions can be explained by looking at political and economic factors. These two regions will gain from increased welfare and they will significantly benefit from Turkey's democratic transformation on the path to EU membership,” the report said.

“It is noteworthy that EU membership is still considered one of the most important foreign policy issues, even though it is not on the agenda during the election process in Turkey,” said TESEV Board of Directors Chairman Can Paker, referring to the upcoming June 12 elections, at a press conference on Wednesday.

Paker added that since Turkey is on the brink of creating a new constitution, it is important to stress the EU criteria and the EU membership of Turkey, 60 percent of whose trade is with European states.


When asked why they want Turkey to be a member of the EU, 22 percent of the respondents said “easing visa restrictions,” 21 percent said “economic benefits,” 13 percent said “for democracy,” 8 percent answered “job opportunities, decrease in unemployment” and 7 percent said “increased living standards.”

Of the 26 percent of the respondents who did not support Turkey's EU membership, the most common reason given was that Turkey was strong enough on its own, with 21 percent, while 10 percent of the respondents stressed the differences between the moral and cultural values of Turkey and the EU, 8 percent said that the EU did not want Turkey and 6 percent of the

respondents stated they did not want Turkey to become an EU member because Turkey is a Muslim country. Financial crises faced by the EU states have not gone unnoticed, as 6 percent of the respondents said that the EU is failing.

When asked when they thought Turkey would become a member of the EU, 49 percent of the respondents said that Turkey would become a member of the EU within the next five to 20 years, while “never” was the most popular answer with 30 percent. On the other hand, there are some optimists -- 16 percent -- who think that Turkey will accede to the EU within the next five years. According to 20 percent of the respondents, Turkey will become a member within the next five to ten years.

In the survey, when asked to list the biggest obstacle to Turkey's EU membership, the most common answer given by the respondents was xenophobia/Islamophobia, with 22 percent. Other answers included the unwillingness of the EU countries with 7 percent, Turkey's population with 4 percent and terror, also 4 percent. Only 3 percent of the respondents stated that the biggest obstacle to Turkey's membership was the Cyprus issue.

“These responses are consistent with the view that the EU is making it harder for Turkey to become a member for religious and cultural reasons, a sentiment that is becoming increasingly widespread in Turkey,” stated the report, written by TESEV's Mensur Akgün, Sabiha Senyücel Gündoğar, Aybars Görgülü and Erdem Aydın.

Akgün indicated that a peaceful, compromise-based solution within the framework of the UN parameters in Cyprus was supported by 31 percent of the respondents. In the survey, 8 percent of the respondents wished to see the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) -- which is located south of Turkey on the northern part of Cyprus -- become part of Turkey, while the 6 percent who want the KKTC to remain independent are a distinct minority.

When asked about Turkey's most important foreign policy issues, relations with the EU was the most common answer with 14 percent, while relations with Israel are second with 7 percent, followed by the United States with 5 percent and the Cyprus issue with 4 percent.

The survey results indicate that those who think the US is unfriendly towards Turkey are 52 percent while those who think that the US is friendly account for 27 percent of those polled.

“The fact that 33 percent of the respondents see the US as the second most unfriendly country towards Turkey after Israel is important, as it shows that the majority of people in Turkey have a negative view of the US's approach to their country,” Senyücel said.

When asked to evaluate US President Barack Obama, 80 percent of Turkish respondents have a positive opinion of his election but when asked to comment on President Obama's performance as of December 2010, 67 percent of the respondents evaluate his performance positively, representing a 13 percent drop. As a result, Senyücel said that although the Obama presidency has not fully satisfied the expectations of Turkey's public, it is still regarded positively.

Evaluating at a panel yesterday, Mustafa Aydın from Kadir Has University referred to the results of the Pew research, which was conducted in May this year and found that only 10 percent of those polled viewed the United States positively, compared to 77 percent who viewed the country negatively. He indicated that the results of the Pew research were not so different in the previous year, making Turks those with the most negative evaluations of the US in the world.

Senyücel and Akgün pointed out that the way the Pew research asks questions comes to the fore when comparing its results with the research done by KA and TESEV. They also said that the timing of the Pew research is important as the public uprisings in the Middle East have intensified since December, when the KA and TESEV survey was done, increasing negative sentiments toward the US.

They also added that most survey results show there is not a structural anti-Americanism in Turkey and if the US would like to see more sympathy from the Turkish public, Washington D.C. should strengthen its contacts with Ankara and take Turkey's interests and warnings seriously in the area of foreign policy.

TESEV researchers also pointed out positive trends in Turkey-US relations, as 53 percent of the survey respondents see the future of the relations positively, and the respondents from the Southeast of Turkey were the most optimistic in that regard (60 percent).

Meanwhile, 82 percent of the respondents believe that Turkey can be a cultural model for the countries of the Middle East, 80 percent believe it can be an economic model and 72 percent say it can be a model politically.

The researchers also indicated that the Turkish public embraces peaceful solutions, which are stressed in Turkish foreign policy, as 75 percent of the respondents support Turkey's efforts for mediation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, 50 percent support rapprochement with Armenia and 58 percent support sending peace forces to Lebanon. Of the respondents, 52 percent also indicate satisfaction -- versus 31 percent dissatisfaction -- with the way foreign policy decisions are made.

Twenty-five percent of the respondents also regard the prime minister, and another 25 percent the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the most important actor in foreign policy making, while only 5 percent think that Parliament is most important, while 2 percent say that the army is most important.

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