A revealing survey
The results of a survey by daily Habertürk and the Andy-Ar Center for Social Research recently made reveals where Turks stand on the EU.
Contrary to expectations, given the current, less-than-friendly atmosphere between Turkey and Europe, 47.4 percent of those surveyed said they opposed ending membership talks with the EU.
Some 44.3 percent said they supported ending talks while 7.7 percent said they had no idea about the matter. The remainder was negligible.
Responding to another question, 75.3 percent believe that Turkey is moving away from the EU, while 19.9 percent believe it is not and 4.6 percent have no idea.
Looked at superficially, one is tempted to say there is good news in this survey since a majority still supports the idea of maintaining Turkey’s membership talks. A more detailed look tells us a more varied story.
It is significant, for example, that 75.3 percent believe Turkey is drifting away from the EU. This means that those who want to maintain membership talks are expressing a desire that is likely to remain unfulfilled.
As an aside, it must be said that Ankara is not the only side to blame for the weakening of ties between Turkey and the EU, even though the government’s backpedaling with regards to democracy and human rights plays an undeniably important role in this.
The mood in Europe is also apparent and it is doubtful that Turkey’s EU perspective would produce the expected results even if Ankara were to work with great determination to see this mature and bear fruit.
The swing to the right in Europe, and the negative message embedded in this for a predominantly Muslim country like Turkey can’t be denied either. In other words, most Turks are aware that there is no EU membership on the horizon for Turkey anyway.
So why then do they want membership talks to continue? The answer lies in other figures provided by the Habertürk-Andy-Ar survey.
Some 58.6 percent of those who support the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and 54.2 percent of those who support the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) want membership talks to end.
Some 75.5 percent of those who support the main opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP), and 81.9 percent of those who support the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) want membership talks to continue.
This clearly reflects an ideological divide between those that wants to see a progressive country with an advanced democracy along European lines, and those that want to see a conservative and nationalist country that is not based on democratic values originating in Europe.
In other words, the majority of Turks want a progressive and democratic Turkey along European lines regardless of whether there is EU membership or not. The EU perspective provides them with a ray of hope, if nothing else.
This poses a problem for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who wants Turkey to forget the EU and turn to Eurasia.
If 47.4 percent are still keen on maintaining EU membership talks, whether they believe membership will happen or not – including AKP and MHP supporters, not all of whom want to see the talks with the EU end, according to the survey – this means that a referendum on the topic, an idea Erdoğan supports, might not yield the result he expects.
Erdoğan bases his rule on what he terms “the will of the nation,” in other words what comes out of the ballot box in absolute terms, rather than the intricacies of the democratic parliamentary system we have. Losing a referendum would therefore represent a political disaster for him because it would reveal that he does not have the will of the nation in the way he claims.
There are other political and social messages to come out of this survey of course, but even the few points made here show that Turkey is a more complex country than Erdoğan and the AKP think, and can come up with undesirable results when least expected.
This aspect of Turkey appears to be the only source of hope for the country at present.