The EU did you say?

The EU did you say?

The topic of European Union membership is hardly on the radar for Turks anymore. A recent survey by the Turkey-Europe Educational and Scientific Research Foundation (TAVAK) shows that those who believe in membership in the union stand at 17 percent, down from 78 percent in 2004.

TAVAK Director Professor Faruk Şen characterizes this as a “frightful drop in support” and attributes it to three factors.

First is the upsurge in confidence among Turks that “they can do without the EU.” The second is the economic crisis in EU member states. And the third is the negative stance of Germany and France on Turkish membership. Şen excludes another key factor; namely that Turks are also aware of rising Islamophobia and racism across Europe.

Looking at this picture, the European rightwing is undoubtedly pleased since the prospect of Turkey in Europe is dimmer than it has been at anytime in the past. However, all the factors that are off-putting for Turks say more about today’s Europe than about Turkey and are not exactly things that any sensible European can be proud of.

I put aside those in Europe, of course, who justifiably say Turkey cannot be a member until it meets the necessary criteria for membership. These people, at least in appearance, are not against Turkish membership per se, but believe this can only be if the requirements are met.

It is not very useful for Turks at this stage to also harp on about how Bulgaria and Romania, not to mention Greece, were admitted without fully meeting the requirements. Many in Europe are also asking this these days, and the corollary is that the stipulation that Turkey fulfills all the membership criteria will probably have been reinforced given what is transpiring in Europe.

The bottom line here is, nevertheless, that developments in Europe are reducing the EU’s appeal for Turks. Those who observe what is happening in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, to name a few, are wondering what good membership is if members can land in such situations that are demeaning for their populations.

The impact of this is amplified when it is considered that for most Turks, the EU, in the first instance, always implied a higher standard of living, which was in fact not much different at the time for the populations of those members today that are in the throes of impoverishment.

There is, however, another dimension to the TAVAK survey that is also important. Some 33 percent of those surveyed said they do not believe the Turkish government has done enough for membership and believe it should be much more active in this regard.

This is another factor explaining why support for EU membership has declined so drastically. The government’s lack of enthusiasm, especially in implementing requirements for membership in key areas such as democracy, human rights and freedom of expression, has contributed to increased skepticism about the power of the EU to change Turkey for the better.

Even if the other factors listed above did not exist, it is plain to see that Turkey would still be dragging its feet in terms of the key reforms it has to enact and implement in order to qualify as a country that has attained European standards.

From education and press freedom to abortion and censorship of the Internet on moral grounds, the government has instead been moving in a direction that suggests it is more interested in a restrictively religious and conservative society than a liberal one based on freedoms in the European sense of the word.

Echoes of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remark that “they want to see a religious generation emerging in this country” can still be heard. So with a push from the European right and a pull from Turkish arch conservatives, it is no wonder only 17 percent still believes in the EU.

Time will tell if this is good or bad for Turkey and Europe in the long run. I am among those who believe it will be bad for both, since the EU will not be today’s EU and Turkey will not be today’s Turkey in 10 years’ time.