Nearly eight out of 10 Turks support Turkey’s EU membership bid, new research revealed on Tuesday. The Economic Development Foundation (İKV), an İstanbul-based group that specializes in EU-Turkey relations, found that 78,9 percent of respondents backed EU membership, a 3 percentage point rise on last year.
According to a report by state-run Anadolu news agency, the rise came even though Turkey has been involved in several diplomatic rows with EU members over the last year, noticeably Germany and the Netherlands.
According to the survey, which was conducted across 18 provinces over the last month in face-to-face interviews with 1,300 people, 68,8 percent of Turkish people do not believe the country will join the bloc in the near future. Among Turks who backed EU membership, economic advantage was the primary reason, with nearly half citing prosperity and economic development as their main reason for joining. Free travel and education opportunities were reported by 38,1 percent of respondents while another 34,5 percent mentioned enhanced democratic and human rights protections.
Among those who opposed membership, many said it would harm Turkish identity and culture and claimed the bloc had no future.
Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005. However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot Administration in the divided island of Cyprus, and opposition from Germany and France.
To gain membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations on 35 policy chapters that involve reforms and the adoption of European standards. As of May 2016, 16 chapters had been opened and one closed. However, in December 2016, member states said no new chapters would be opened.
Turkish autocratic Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has frequently reiterated that Turkey “does not need the European Union,” amid a number of disagreements between the two sides. “If you’re honest, make your statement and we will finish the job. We don’t need you,” Erdoğan said during a speech he gave for provincial chairmen of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) early October.
“What happened after the EU failed to give visa-free travel [to Turkish citizens]? Are we in a miserable situation? They are still delaying it. You are running away from the mat,” added Erdoğan.
The European Union has decided to cut up to 175 million euros for Turkey in 2018 that are linked to Ankara’s stalled bid to join the bloc and could block some 3,5 billion euros in development loans earmarked for the country, lawmakers and diplomats said.
In a symbolic stand against deteriorating human rights in Turkey, the 2018 cuts are likely to be the start of a longer-term reduction of pre-accession aid that is meant to help EU candidate countries prepare for membership. “As long as Turkey is not respecting freedom of speech, human rights, and is drifting further away from European democratic standards, we cannot finance such a regime with EU funds,” said Siegfried Muresan, the European Parliament’s chief budget negotiator.