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Turks increasingly “distrustful” of EU membership process - Interview

With the European Commission set to publish its annual progress report on Turkey’s progress towards EU accession on 6 November, Turks themselves appear to be increasingly distrustful of the EU executive’s enlargement policy. Turkish Secretary General for EU Affairs Mustafa Oguz Demiralp spoke to EurActiv Turkey in an interview.

A recent survey carried out by the German Marshall Fund found that 56% of Europeans believe Turkey will join EU, as opposed to just 26% of Turks. How do you interpret these results?

While evaluating public opinion research, we must take into consideration the development of EU-Turkey relations and the ongoing public debate when the research was conducted. In fact, if we look at past public opinion polls, especially after the Helsinki summit, we see that Turkish public opinion was positive regarding EU membership. But the discussions during the opening of the negotiations and some of the EU leaders’ statements during the negotiation process affected the membership process negatively. So it is more suitable to describe Turkish public opinion as “distrustful”, instead of “pessimistic” towards the EU membership process.

When Turkey was announced as a candidate country, the EU pointed out that the process would be conducted in terms of “fairness” and “equal treatment”. Moreover, the enlargement commissioner at the time, Günter Verheugen, underlined that the EU would apply the same criteria and methods towards Turkey as to other new candidate countries.

But when you review the negotiation framework which established general principles of the negotiation process, many new issues were added - for example, the term "digestion capacity" wasn’t brought into the foreground as much before as it is in Turkey’s negotiation process. Without a doubt, digestion capacity wasn’t a new issue, and it has been on the EU agenda since the 1993 Copenhagen summit. However, this issue hasn’t been a major clause on the agenda of the previous negotiations on the enlargement process, and rather was related to undertaking the necessary reforms regarding the EU’s own institutions, politics and budget.

What kind of measures have to be implemented in order to affect public opinion?

Without a doubt, EU leaders’ statements related to Turkey’s EU membership bid are one of the major reasons for scepticism towards the EU in Turkey. While Turkey is trying to fulfil its responsibilities related to the negotiation process, some of the EU leaders’ arguments about Turkey’s population, geography and culture, and using these arguments for a “privileged partnership”, weaken the Turkish public’s trust towards the EU. For example, French President [Nicolas] Sarkozy’s statement that starting the negotiations on the "economic and monetary policy" chapter would bring Turkey closer to its target of EU membership, and the subsequent blocking of the opening of this chapter by the EU, justifies the doubts in Turkish public opinion, namely that the EU applies double standards towards Turkey.

As a result, we shouldn’t forget that the most important factor which shaped Turkish public opinion towards the negotiation process is the EU’s policies during this process. Turkey, which officially started the negotiation process, is obliged to fulfil its responsibilities during the process. Therefore, Turkey deserves membership as soon as it satisfies the requirements of membership. Turkish public opinion towards EU membership becomes more eager and positive about the membership process if the EU rebuilds its credibility. Also, for its own strategic interests, the EU should change its attitude in this way.

Regarding the EU objective, what is the road map of the Secretariat General for EU Affairs, which recently became a part of the foreign ministry?

The Secretariat General for EU Affairs (EUSG) was formerly linked to Chief Negotiator Ali Babacan. After he was appointed as the new foreign minister, EUSG also became a part of foreign ministry. EUGS had operated under the foreign ministry between 2003 and 2005, but this change in status didn’t affect EUSG’s responsibilities and activities during the EU membership process. 

As you know, the negotiation process is conducted by the Monitoring and Orientation Committee (MOC) which consists of the prime ministry, foreign ministry, State Planning Organisation and EUSG. EUSG will continue to execute its mission under the MOC and be the basic institution which is responsible for coordination of the negotiation process. EUSG will also follow its mission as secretariat of the MOC and undertake the necessary operations in order to help the public institutions to benefit from EU financial aid and technical support mechanisms in the most effective way. (Euractiv)