EU still means hope in Turkish

EU still means hope in Turkish

The results from two different surveys surfaced last week. Both show the attitude of Turks towards the European Union (EU). Lately, Turks’ frustration with the EU has turned into a kind of numbness, a kind of indifference. The last we heard in 2013, only one third of Turks supported their country’s bid for EU membership. Two recent surveys however, display that the EU fire is still alive within Turks. But which regions of Turkey are more pro-EU? First, the level of support in general increases if you move to the East of the country. Support levels are significantly below average in Central Anatolia, as the graph shows. Secondly, Turkey’s corporate sector is overwhelmingly in support of the accession process. The trend is similar here – the level of support rises as you move east. The lesser the interaction with Europeans, it seems, the more likely people are to support accession. Interesting. But why?

The first result comes from the Turkish Statistical Institute’s recently released results for their Life Satisfaction Survey, a kind of “happiness indicator.” It shows that around 59% of the population is happy with their lives. Even more importantly, 77% is optimistic and hopeful regarding their future.

Good for us! As the Turkish proverb goes: It is hope for the better that keeps a man going. In the survey, there is also a question that asks whether the respondent will support Turkey’s EU bid in the event of a referendum. Around 47% said yes. Why is this interesting? Two things. First, in places where optimism for the future is trailing behind the average, the support for Turkey’s EU bid in a prospective referenda increases. That is more visible in Turkish Kurdistan, visualized by the map for you. So the EU still means hope in Turkish. Secondly, as you go towards the East, connectivity to European markets dwindles and the share of exports to Europe among the total exports of each province declines. That is, the further a city is in the East, the lesser its economic contact with Europe.  The more contact declines, the higher support for the EU gets. Does that mean that visa restrictions and transport quotas are making Turks more frustrated with the EU? Yes. The Customs Union with connectivity restrictions is a good source for bad feelings. Does that mean that Eastern Turkey asks to be connected to the wealthiest market in the world? Yes. 

A similar result could also be found in the EuroChambers – TOBB (Chamber Federation of Turkey) survey on business attitudes towards Turkey’s EU bid. There, the support for Turkey’s bid within the Turkish business community is overwhelming: around 77%. If the purpose of the Customs Union was to integrate the Turkish economy with the EU and to create natural supporters for the EU process, it has definitely served its purpose. Yet the caveat remains. Support for EU accession increases as you go east. Residents of provinces that are not yet integrated into the European market have higher hopes from the EU membership. So those who have not yet made contact have higher hopes compared to those who have already had a taste.

It is hope for the better that keeps Turks going and the EU is still a significant component of that. The accession process still matters to people in this country. Let’s hope that the EU handles the case of Turkey more carefully than that of Ukraine.