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Turkish Perceptions of the European Union

April 29, 2021
by
GMF Experts
13 min read
The “Turkish Perceptions of the European Union” public opinion survey has been conducted by The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) within the scope of the Fellowship on Turkey, E
The “Turkish Perceptions of the European Union” public opinion survey has been conducted by The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) within the scope of the Fellowship on Turkey, Europe, and Global Issues Program that was launched by GMF in partnership with the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) in 2017. The study produces a detailed picture of Turkish perceptions of the European Union, EU countries, EU-Turkish relations, and Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The survey has been carried out in the months of March and April in 29 provinces of Turkey through face-to-face interviews with 2,000 people representing the age group of 18 and above. 

FOREWORD

The “Turkish Perceptions of the European Union” public opinion survey has been conducted by The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) within the scope of the GMF-TOBB Fellowship on Turkey, Europe, and Global Issues Program that was launched by GMF in partnership with the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) in 2017. The study produces a detailed picture of Turkish perceptions of the European Union, EU countries, EU-Turkish relations, and Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The survey has been carried out in the months of March and April in 29 provinces of Turkey through face-to-face interviews with 2,000 people representing the age group of 18 and above.

Turkey-EU relations shaped by political crises in recent years are multilayered and have an indisputable importance for both sides. From the accession process to the Customs Union, from cooperation in the field of energy to cooperation in security and migrant issues, this multifaceted relationship is an indicator of mutual dependence for both EU and Turkey.

In the last decade, the transformations experienced by Turkey, the EU, and globally have shaken EU-Turkish relations and resulted in a new form of relations. With the migrant crisis of 2016, the already weakened EU-Turkish relationship has fallen far beyond the normative model, drifting to an interest-based relationship. Turkey is now perceived as a third country rather than an EU candidate country in EU circles. The political developments in Turkey continue to be an element shaping such a dynamic.

The political transformations in the Middle East, Syrian civil war, Ankara-Moscow rapprochement, turmoil in Eastern Mediterranean, and Libya crisis carried the tension between the EU and Turkey into a geopolitical arena. Therefore, until the meetings between Ankara and Brussels started only a few months ago for the search of a positive agenda, EU-Turkish relations have been quite turbulent. Normalization of the relations and setting a positive agenda will not be an easy task. Both sides have to be willing and creative to succeed in this task.

Within this framework, we hope that this survey will provide a valuable resource for policymakers, media, think tanks, and academics who are searching for ways to put the EU-Turkey relationship back on track.

KEY FINDINGS OF THE SURVEY

Foreign Policy

Turkey’s public opinion seems to favor the European Union as the closest partner in dealing with international matters. This trend is stronger in the 18-24 age group compared to the general population. It is thought that the EU's effectiveness in solving the problems in the world compared to other countries or group of countries would lead to better results for the majority of humanity, and this trend is even stronger in the 18-24 age group.

  • When asked about the two most important partner countries of Turkey, 46.1% of the respondents mentioned Azerbaijan, followed by the Russian Federation with 18.6% and Germany with 13.5%.
  • When asked about the biggest threat as a country or group of countries against the national interests of Turkey, 60.6% of the respondents mentioned the United States, followed by Israel with 24%, and the Russian Federation with 19%.
  • When asked about the two most important roles Turkey could play in the world, 65.9% of the respondents preferred Turkey to be an economically developed country while 38.8% preferred a politically strong country, and 30.6% preferred a country influential in military issues.
  • When asked about which country or group of countries Turkey should cooperate most closely with concerning international issues, 37% of the respondents replied with EU countries whereas 14.7% preferred the Russian Federation. 15.9% of the respondents wanted Turkey to act alone followed by 9.1% preferring the United States and 6.5% preferring China.
    • It was observed that acting with the EU countries on international problems was explicitly preferred more by the respondents of 18-24 age group. 42% of respondents in this age group wanted to cooperate most closely with the EU countries, followed by the Russian Federation with 14.3%, 12.2% with the United States, and only 5.5% with China.  
  • When asked about which country or group of countries should have a say in solving the problems of the world for the sake of better results for the majority of humanity, 35.8% of respondents replied with the EU, 12.9% with the United States, 10.5% with Russia, and 8.2% with China.
    • It was observed that the respondents in the age group of 18-24 were more inclined to expect better results for the majority of humanity if the EU was more influential in solving the problems of the world. 42.1% of the respondents in the age group of 18-24 preferred EU countries, 14.9% preferred the United States, 10.5% Russia, and 6.8% China. 
  • 38.2% of respondents wanted Turkey to play a more active role in the Middle East, Balkans, and North Africa while 59.6% wanted Turkey to deal first with its domestic problems.
    • It was observed that respondents in the age group of 18-24 were more inclined to think that Turkey should deal first with its domestic problems. 30.9% of the respondents of this age group stated that Turkey should play a more efficient role in the Middle East, Balkans, and North Africa whereas 67.2% wanted Turkey to deal with its domestic problems first.
  • The trust towards international agencies was higher among the respondents in the age group of 18-24 when compared with the respondents in general. 40.4% of overall respondents indicated their trust towards the EU while 52.3% of respondents in the age group of 18-24 expressed their trust towards EU. Similarly, 49.8% of respondents expressed their trust towards the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This ratio was 57.3% for the respondents in the age group of 18-24.

EU-Turkey Relations

Support for Turkey’s EU membership is still high and even higher in the age group of 18-24 than in the general population.

  • 55.9% of the respondents believed that Turkey’s EU membership would be a good thing whereas 24.9% thought it would be a bad thing.
    • The tendency of thinking about EU membership as a good thing is explicitly stronger in the age group of 18-24. 66.2% of the respondents in this age group believed that Turkey’s EU membership would be good whereas 16.2% thought it would be bad.
  • 60.1% of the respondents stated that they would vote “Yes” if there were a referendum on Turkey’s full membership to the EU this Sunday.  29.7% of the respondents stated that they would vote “No”.
    • The tendency to vote “Yes” in a possible referendum on Turkey’s EU membership is explicitly stronger in the age group of 18-24. 68.8% of the respondents in this age group stated that they would vote “Yes” whereas 21.3% preferred to vote “No” in such a referendum.
  • When asked about the timing of Turkey’s accession to EU, 12.9% of the respondents replied with in five years, 17.1% with in ten years and 19.2% with in longer than fifteen years. 39.7% of the respondents believed that Turkey would never become a member country of the EU.
  • 56.7% of the respondents thought that EU membership would bear personal benefits whereas 36.8% thought that there would be no personal benefits of EU membership.
    • 67.2% of the respondents in the age group of 18-24 believed that Turkey’s EU membership would bear personal benefits whereas 26.4% thought that there would be no personal benefits of EU membership.

Perceptions of Europe and Europeans

It was observed that views on Europe and Europeans were generally positive and even more positive among the respondents in 18-24 age group. Family and media stand out as the influential factors in the formation of views on Europe and Europeans.

  • When asked how knowledgeable they are about EU policies and institutions, 23.7% of respondents stated that they were not knowledgeable about it, 59.7% of them stated that they had medium level of knowledge, and 14.6% of them stated that they were knowledgeable.
  • 59.6% of respondents stated that their opinion about Europeans was positive, while 33.1% stated that it was negative.
    • Respondents in the 18-24 age group appear to have a much more positive opinion of Europeans than the general population. While 72% of respondents in this age group stated that their opinion about Europeans was positive, only 20% of them stated that their opinions were negative.
  • When asked which is more effective in forming their views on Europe and Europeans, 40.1% of respondents said their family, 26.7% said politicians, and 15.9% said newspapers, and commentators followed.
  • When asked which sources of information are effective in forming their views on Europe and Europeans, 36.2% of respondents answered with the news and discussion programs on television, and 26.6% with news and comments in newspapers and magazines.

Membership Process

  • 21.5% of respondents believed that Turkey would definitely become a member country of the EU if it fulfilled the requirements whereas 22.9% of the respondents believed that Turkey was not ready for membership even if the EU wanted to, and 52.1% believed that EU had no intention of accepting Turkey as a member and was just distracting it.
  • When asked about the two most important factors that would facilitate Turkey's membership to the EU, 58.9% of respondents replied as the improvement of the Turkish economy, 47.2% said improvement of the human rights, and 29.8% said legal reform.
  • When asked about the most important benefit of EU membership for Turkey, 19.4% of respondents replied economic development, the decrease in unemployment and the cost of living, 17.5% replied the increase in power in the international arena, and 17.3%  the development of democracy and widespread participation of the people in government.
    • It was observed that the expectations of the respondents in the age group of 18-24 from the EU membership are significantly different from that of general respondents. When asked about the most important benefit of the EU membership for Turkey, it was noted that 20.8% of 18-24 age group respondents replied with the development of democracy and the widespread participation of the people in government, 15.4% with economic development, the decrease in unemployment, and the cost of living, and 13.4% with the increase in social peace.
  • When asked what would be the greatest benefit of Turkey's EU membership, 25.1% of respondents replied with opening of the Turkish market to the European companies, 21.1% with provision of cultural pluralism, and 20.4% with inclusion of the young population of Turkey in Europe.
  • While 8.4% of respondents stated that EU countries really want to see Turkey as a member, 29.2% stated that most EU countries, if not all, wanted it, and 57.82% said they did not.
  • When asked whether the steps Turkey has taken in the past in the EU membership process and the steps it may take in the future were approved or not, the following results have been reached:
    • 47% of respondents approved the establishment of the necessary conditions for freedom of thought and expression while 9.52% disapproved.
    • 27.9% of respondents approved the abolition of the death penalty while 24.4% disapproved.
    • 40.1% of respondents approved the abolition of laws that prevent citizens from learning in their mother tongue while 12.6% disapproved.
    • 39.9% of respondents approved removing the legal obstacles to radio and television broadcasting in the mother tongue of citizens while 13.3% disapproved.
    • 41.7% of respondents approved that the conditions necessary for the expression of freedom of religion and conscience to be established to cover all religions and sects while 11.6% disapproved.
    • 20.9% of respondents approved the resolution of problems with Greece through mutual compromises while 29% disapproved.
    • 19.7% of respondents approved the solution of the existing problems in Cyprus through mutual compromises while 29% disapproved.
  • 67.9% of respondents believed that the European countries wanted to divide and disintegrate Turkey in the present just like they did to the Ottoman Empire in the past. 70.1% believed that the European countries have helped strengthen separationist organizations such as PKK in Turkey.
  • 59.3% of respondents stated that the reforms made to become a member of the EU were no different from the capitulations, and 56.4% agreed that the reforms requested by the EU from Turkey were similar to those requested in the Sévres Treaty in the past.
  • 61.8% of respondents stated that the Crusader Spirit was behind European attitudes towards Turkey, 60.6% of them agreed that the Westernization efforts in Turkey did not go beyond Western mimicry.

Positive Agenda

Liberalization of the visa regime, cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and cooperation on refugees stand out among the positive agenda items. The ratio of those who support all the criteria that Turkey must fulfill for visa liberalization is higher than those who do not.

  • 33.8% of respondents stated that the Customs Union with the EU benefited the Turkish economy while 11.4% stated that the Customs Union harmed the Turkish economy.
  • While 44.3% of respondents stated that they would support the inclusion of the services, public procurement, and agriculture sectors in the Customs Union reciprocally, 18.2% said they would oppose.
  • While 31.7% of respondents stated that Turkey and the EU had common interests in the energy hubs in the Eastern Mediterranean, 43.6% stated that they had conflicting interests.
  • While 22.7% of respondents stated that Turkey and the EU had common interests in the Cyprus issue, 54.3% stated that they had conflicting interests.
  • While 22.4% of respondents stated that Turkey and the EU had common interests in the Libyan civil war, 50.4% stated that they had conflicting interests.
  • While 26.6% of respondents stated that Turkey and the EU had common interests in the Syrian civil war, 52% stated that they had conflicting interests.
  • While 26.1% of respondents stated that Turkey and the EU had common interests in the fight against ISIS, 53.4% ​​stated that they had conflicting interests.
  • While 32.8% of respondents stated that Turkey and the EU had common interests in the refugee problem, 49.5% stated that they had conflicting interests.
  • When asked about three policies that will make the most significant contribution to the improvement of relations between Turkey and the EU, 53.5% of respondents pointed to the visa liberalization, 50.8% to cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and 45.1% to cooperation on immigrants and refugees.
  • When asked about the criteria Turkey must fulfill for the visa liberalization, 51.8% of respondents supported whereas 38.3% opposed the review of the legislation and practices on terrorism in light of the European standards; 52.7% of respondents supported and 36.7% opposed the effective judicial cooperation with all EU member states regarding the criminal matters; 50.9% of respondents supported and 37.1% opposed the harmonization of the legislation on the protection of personal data with the EU standards; 48.4% of respondents supported and 37.5% opposed Turkey signing an operational cooperation agreement with Europol; 50.5% of respondents supported whereas 35.9% opposed the adoption of the anti-corruption measures and the effective follow-up of the recommendations issued by the Council of Europe's Group of States Against Corruption; 48% of respondents supported and 37.8% opposed the full implementation of the Readmission Agreement between the EU and Turkey.

Climate, Environment

Sensitivity to climate and environment is increasing. The majority of the respondents support the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement by the Turkish Parliament and Turkey's participation in the European Green Deal.

  • While 71.6% of respondents supported the view that protecting the environment should be given priority even if it caused a slow economic growth and job losses, 23.1% supported the view that economic growth and job opportunities should be a priority even if the environment was harmed.
  • 73.9% of respondents stated that they did not have information about the Paris Climate Agreement, while 17% stated that they had knowledge.
  • 66.2% of respondents stated that the Turkish Parliament should ratify the Paris Climate Agreement, while 26.4% stated that it should not.
  • 51.1% of the respondents stated that Turkey should join the EU Green Deal, while 20.9% stated that it should not.

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