Government and business leaders call for more negotiations and continued work on reforms.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 02/05/13
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule (right) and Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bagis give a joint press conference in Ankara on May 17th 2012. [AFP]
Turkey should redouble its reform efforts to win a spot in the European Union despite recent opinion polls that show support for the EU waning as Ankara is mired in an accession process that has taken a quarter of a century, an expert said.
"Turkey, especially in freedom of the media and expression and aligning with EU acquis chapters, should continue the reform process in order maintain the political and economic elites' support for Turkey's EU membership," Selcen Oner, an EU expert at Bahcesehir University, told SETimes.
EU experts and the business sector are urging the government to reinvigorate negotiations through continued reforms and EU harmonisation.
Analysts say the stalled negotiation process between the EU and Turkey as well as the Eurozone's ongoing financial crisis has resulted in the decline in a recent Metropoll study, which showed support for EU membership falling from 69 percent to 43 percent since 2008. Another 10 percent is undecided.
The survey was conducted in 31 cities across the country, with 1,202 people from different ethnic, religious, political and social-economic backgrounds.
The EU sees the poll results as confirmation of the EU's policy to create new momentum in the accession process.
"The opinion poll results show there is a solid support for the EU among Turkish citizens. It is a positive result given the complexities of the accession process," Peter Stano, spokesman for European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle, told SETimes.
"We believe that 2013 will be a positive year for EU-Turkey relations if Turkey seizes the momentum created by the positive agenda and the forward-looking EU Council conclusions in December, which openly call for a new momentum in accession negotiations," he added.
According to Nilgun Arisan Eralp, an EU expert from the Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV, the change in the public's appetite for EU accession can be attributed to the Eurozone crisis and the stalled accession process.
"The financial crisis that the EU has been going through in recent years and the way it has been misinterpreted in Turkey -- like EU has come to an end -- resulted in a loss of credibility for the EU," Eralp told SETimes.
There is a belief in Turkey -- supported by the vocal opposition of France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands in particular to Turkey's EU accession -- that the EU will not accept Turkey for political and cultural reasons regardless of the reform process, she said.
Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bagis (left) and Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt hold a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 16th. [AFP]
The political and cultural arguments used against Turkey, Eralp said, have weakened the coalition of pro-EU supporters in Turkey.
"Defending the virtues of the EU accession process has almost become politically risky and the process itself has started to suffer from lack of domestic ownership," she added.
Another poll conducted in January by the Economic and Foreign Policy Studies Centre found a similar effect on EU support, with two in three respondents saying that Turkey should not push for full accession in the next five years.
Whether or not Turkey ultimately gains full EU membership or develops a "special relationship" based on mutual interests may not be as important as the reform process, which in and of itself would bring Turkey in line with European standards of democracy and governance.
Actions needed to move the EU bid forward will be significant, Stano said.
"Implementing EU-related reforms in Turkey will bring long-term benefits to the country and its citizens through improved administration as well as better protection of citizens' and consumers' rights," he said.
"Working hard towards this goal is the best way to convince the public that the accession to the EU is in Turkey's and the EU's mutual interest," he said.
The business community in Turkey also remains an important factor behind public and government support of the EU accession process.
The Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD) -- which represents about 60 percent of Turkey's private sector, 80 percent of its exports and 84 percent of the state's corporate tax revenues -- has repeatedly called on the country to move forward with EU reforms and harmonisation.
Bahadir Kalegasi, the EU representative of TUSIAD, told SETimes that while the Cyprus dispute, the Eurozone crisis and Turcophobic statements by political leaders in Europe have contributed to a decline in EU support, the business community remains a strong advocate of Turkey's EU bid.
"Turkey's membership to the EU is matter of stable democracy, global competitiveness, economic and political soft-power and social development," he said, adding that TUSIAD has always been a major force behind Turkey's democratic, economic and social reforms.