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Europe

Turkey's Euro-Skeptic Ranks Swell

Turks are increasingly critical of the country's possible accession to the EU as Euro-skeptics warn of a potential sell-out of national interests.

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Is the EU-Turkish relationship one of reluctance on both sides?

Even though opinion polls regularly show that three-quarters of Turks favour their country joining the EU, increasing numbers are also becoming aware of drawbacks: Brussels is going to make increasing demands on Ankara and will have a bigger role in running the country. Many see this this as a threat to the Turkish state.


These warnings are also being voiced in other countries that are seeking EU membership but nowhere do they touch the nerve the way they do in Turkey. While the EU -- as a result of its experiences in the two world wars -- is trying to supress the individual nation-state by bringing member states closer together as one, many Turks consider the nation-state to be the greatest good.

"Sovereignty belongs unconditionally and unreservedly to the nation" was one of the principles of Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, whose image hangs on the end wall of the plenary chamber in the Turkish parliament.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan und Abdullah Gül in Brüssel

Recep Tayyip Erdogan und Abdullah Gül have been accused of compromising over Cyprus

A foreign toy?

Turkey arose out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, which was occupied by the Allied victors of World War I, in the 1920s. In a war that involved heavy losses, Atatürk succeeded in driving the Greek occupying powers -- in West Anatolia in particular -- out of the country.

In the early years of the republic, Turks feared that the country would be carved up and become a plaything of foreign powers.

As a result, it is unsurprising that nationalists are claiming that Turkish membership in the European Union would ultimately only benefit Europeans, not Turks. And they point to to the conflict over Cyprus as evidence.

The Cypress conflict

Turkey's Euro-skeptics criticize every step taken by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan regarding Cypress: he hints that he is willing to make compromises in the search for a peaceful solution for the divided Mediterranean island.

Joschka Fischer EU Außenministertreffen in Brüssel

A close ally of Turkish membership

The fact that Erdogan's government is "selling" Cyprus in order to show the EU how obedient Tukrkey is, is an image often peddled by the right-wing nationalist MHP party.

But concern over the fate of the Turkish state in the upcoming membership negotiations with the EU is not only an issue for Turkey's right wing. Drawing attention to supposed threats to Turkey from outside its national borders is also part of the repertoire of the social democratic opposition party CHP.

The CHP recently and successfully challenged a law governing the sale of land and buildings to foreigners through the Constitutional Court. The CHP is part of Turkey's lay Kemalist establishment that considers all deviations from Atatürk's course to be wrong.

Because of this, Kemalists have terrible difficulty accepting some of the European Union's key demands. They even have trouble opening Turkey up to foreign investors – a fact demonstrated by more than just the fate of the real estate law.
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a leading Kemalist, recently vetoed a law that would have allowed foreigners to buy television stations in Turkey. The president explained that he had taken this action because a law of this sort would not have been in the "national interest".

Sensitive minority policy

If ground-breaking economic policies such as this are viewed with such suspicion, it is no wonder that the resistance to more sensitive issues, such as policies on minorities, is even more fierce.

The alleged attempts of young Kurds to burn a Turkish flag triggered nationalist hysteria across the country over the past few weeks. Tens of thousands demonstratively draped their homes with Turkish flags while the Turkish police marched through Istanbul bearing a 1.5-kilometre long flag.

Meanwhile, both the nationalists and Kemalists are being joined by a growing number of Turkish Islamists who are also sceptical about their country's EU application. Over the past few years, Turkey's Islamists has accounted for some of the country's greatest Europhiles because they hoped that moving closer to the EU would bring more freedom of religion.

But the introduction of headscarf bans in several EU states and other similar developments have dashed these hopes. A recent report published by the Independent Industrialist & Businessmen's Association, MÜSIAD, concluded that the basic values on which the EU is built are a "strait-jacket" for Muslims.

Even though Erdogan's government has more than a two-thirds majority in parliament, it says that EU skepticism must be taken seriously. The nationalist and Islamist wing of the ruling AKP ensures that this mistrust is not restricted to the opposition both inside and outside the parliament. The debate as to what other demands the EU has yet to make on Turkey and how the country should react to them is only likely to really start once accession negotiations begin October 3.

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