Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 68

A recent opinion poll suggests that the closure case brought by Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has boosted Turkish public support for EU membership, particularly among AKP voters.

A survey conducted by A&G Araştırma (A&G Research) found that 41.9 percent of the Turkish population believes that Turkey “should definitely” join the EU, up from 30.1 percent in January. The change was even more dramatic among AKP supporters, with 47.1 percent now saying that Turkey should definitely join the EU, up from 29.5 percent in January. The survey was conducted on April 5-6, less than a week after the Constitutional Court formally began hearing the case brought by Yalcinkaya against the party (see EDM, April 1). A total of 1,453 respondents (724 women and 729 men) over the age of 18 were questioned in 68 counties in 26 provinces across Turkey.

Because of difficulties in sampling and the volatility of public opinion, the results of opinion polls are still frequently treated with considerable caution, although the accuracy has improved considerably in recent years. Nevertheless, the results of the latest survey would appear to indicate a reversal of the precipitous decline in public support for EU membership. Previous opinion polls by A&G Araştırma suggested that support for accession rose from 56.5 percent in 2002 to 58.7 percent in 2003, 67.5 percent in 2004, and then down to 57.4 percent in 2005 and 32.2 percent in 2006, which was only marginally above the 30.1 percent in January.

A closer analysis of the results, however, suggests that the increase in support has come from those who were previously indifferent or undecided about the EU rather than those who were resolutely opposed to membership. In 2006 25.6 percent said that they were resolutely opposed to accession, compared with 33.0 percent who were indifferent and 9.3 who were undecided or did not reply. The number of those resolutely opposed to membership increased to 27.7 percent this month, while the proportion of those who were indifferent to accession fell to 24.0 percent and the proportion of those who were undecided or did not reply to 6.4 percent.

Although the April 2008 A&G Araştırma survey asked respondents which political party they were likely to vote for, the results do not indicate what proportion indicated their support for which party. Nor, with the exception of the AKP, did the company publish levels of support for EU accession by party affiliation in the previous survey in January 2008. There has been no indication of a dramatic change in the AKP’s popular support since it won 46.6 percent of the vote in the general election on July 22, 2007. As a result, the increase in support for EU membership between January 2008 and April 2008 is probably almost entirely the result of a shift among AKP voters from indifference or indecision to wholehearted support for accession.

When it first took office in November 2002, the AKP accelerated the EU reform process initiated by the previous administration. There is little doubt that, like many Turks, the AKP government regarded EU accession almost as an international seal of approval for a frequently maligned country and that they had only a limited grasp of the full requirements of EU membership, not least the de facto ceding of a measure of sovereignty to Brussels. There is also no question, however, that the AKP was aware that the EU’s strictures on the civilian control of the military would severely restrict the ability of the staunchly secularist Turkish General Staff (TGS) to prevent the party from easing restrictions on the expression of religious values in the public sphere, such as lifting the headscarf ban in universities (see EDM, January 18). Enthusiasm for EU membership dwindled rapidly once Turkey officially initiated accession negotiations on October 4, 2005, which then rapidly stalled, not least over the EU’s insistence that the AKP deliver on its promise to open Turkey’s ports and airports to ships and planes from the Republic of Cyprus, which had joined the EU in May 2004.

But the threat posed by the other bastion of the Turkish secular establishment, the judiciary, and the expressions of bewilderment by leading EU officials at Yalcinkaya’s closure case appear to have resulted not only in the AKP rediscovering its EU vocation by proposing a battery of long-postponed democratizing reforms (see EDM, April 8) but also in a renewed surge of enthusiasm for accession among the party’s supporters.

The A&G Araştırma’s survey this month found that the highest level of support for EU accession came from those who indicated that they would vote for the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP). A total of 83.0 percent of DTP supporters said that Turkey should definitely join the EU, while 1.9 percent were indifferent, 3.8 undecided and 11.3 percent resolutely opposed. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the EU has repeatedly called for greater rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority and that Yalcinkaya filed a still continuing case on November 16, 2007, for the closure of the DTP (see EDM, November 19, 2007).

In contrast, 39.4 percent of supporters of the nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) said that Turkey should definitely join the EU, compared with 25.8 percent who were indifferent, 6.1 percent who were undecided and 28.8 percent who were resolutely opposed. Perhaps predictably, only 27.6 percent of supporters of the ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) said that Turkey should definitely join the EU, compared with 27.6 percent who were indifferent, 1.6 percent who were undecided and 43.3 percent who were resolutely opposed.

There was a general consensus that the EU favored the AKP over other parties. A total of 52.7 percent of AKP supporters believed that the EU supported their party, compared with 38.5 percent who did not know or believed that it did not support any party. While 61.6 percent of CHP voters and 57.5 percent of MHP voters also believed that the EU supported the AKP, only 9.1 percent of CHP supporters and 3.9 percent of MHP supporters believed that the EU supported their own party.

The A&G Araştırma April 2008 survey also suggested, however, that even many of the AKP’s supporters were unhappy with some of the EU’s policies towards Turkey, particularly with regard to the long-running insurgency of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). A total of 85 percent of respondents said that the EU was not providing sufficient support to Turkey in its struggle against the PKK, compared with 7.3 percent who thought that it was and 7.7 percent who were undecided. Significantly, 56.7 percent of supporters of the DTP, which is accused by its opponents of being affiliated with the PKK, simply refused to answer the question (Radikal, Vatan, Milliyet, April 10; A&G Araştırma website, www.agarastirma.com.tr).