The desire of Turks to join the European Union has cooled considerably over the past decade and public support for NATO in Turkey is the lowest among NATO countries, according to the Transatlantic Trends 2013 public opinion survey released on Wednesday by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) Today`s Zaman reported.
The survey also found that an overwhelming majority of Turks want Turkey to stay out of Syria, with only a small minority of 21 percent supporting an intervention in the civil war-torn country.
According to the survey, which measured public opinion in 11 European Union countries, Turkey and the United States, 44 percent of Turkish respondents -- compared to 48 percent last year -- said that Turkish membership in the EU would be "a good thing." This is much lower than the 73 percent who favored membership in 2004. Turkish attitudes in this regard have shown fluctuating support in recent years. Support for EU membership declined from 63 percent in 2005 to 40 percent in 2007, then rose to 48 percent in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Thirty-four percent of Turks, up from 29 percent last year and only 9 percent in 2004, said joining the EU would be bad.
Still, Turkey remains more enthusiastic about joining the EU than most EU members states are about accepting Turkey as a member. Twenty percent of European respondents said that Turkey's EU accession would be good and 33 percent said it would be bad; 37 percent stated that it would be neither good nor bad.
Presenting the survey at a conference on Wednesday, GMF Ankara Director Özgur Unluhisarcıklı said that the trend of declining support for Turkey's EU membership bid stems from mutual frustration in fulfilling expectations and fatigue caused by other candidates' successful accession.
EU Ambassador to Turkey Jean-Maurice Ripert said 44 percent support in Turkey for EU membership is not so bad; rather, it is quite encouraging. He emphasized the economic cooperation and positive relations between the EU and Turkey.
On the question of whether or not NATO membership remains essential for their country's security, Turkish respondents remained divided with 39 percent saying it is essential and 39 percent saying it is not. Those who still believe in NATO's importance cited its representation of a community of democracies as the most important reason. As in the past years, Turkey was the NATO member with the lowest public support for the alliance.
An overwhelming majority (70 percent) of those who said that NATO membership is no longer essential also said that Turkey should be able to make its own military decisions. Also among these respondents, 50 percent want to see increased spending on defense -- a marked increase of 21 percent since 2012 -- compared to 32 percent who want spending in this area to remain at the current level. Only 15 percent of Turkish respondents favor military spending cuts.
On the issue of Turkish troops remaining in Afghanistan to train its army and police, Turkish respondents were less supportive than in the past. Fifty-one percent of Turks disapproved of Turkish participation, while 37 percent approved of it.
The survey also revealed that the Turkish public wants the country to have the freedom to act alone rather than in cooperation with the EU, United States or its regional neighbors on international matters. Thirty-eight percent of Turks think their country should act alone while 21 percent said Turkey should cooperate with the EU on international matters. Relatively few Turks think their nation should cooperate most closely with the United States (9 percent) or Russia (2 percent).
At the same time, Turks are skeptical about increased transatlantic trade. Twenty-eight percent of respondents in Turkey, compared to 49 percent in the US and 56 percent in the EU, said that increased trade would help their economy grow.
Turks were less likely in 2013 to say that they are personally affected by the global economic crisis. Sixty-two percent of Turkish respondents, compared to 69 percent in last year, said they were somewhat or greatly affected by the crisis.
On the other hand, Turks are less happy with their government's economic leadership than ever before. Forty-three percent, down from 55 percent last year, approved of the Turkish government's handling of the economy, while 52 percent of respondents, up from 38 percent last year, disapproved.
Despite Turkish respondents' dissatisfaction with their government's economic policy, they approve of its foreign policies with greater frequency and consistency. Fifty-one percent of Turks, unchanged since last year and up to 6 percent since 2011, approved of the government's handling of international politics.
72 percent say Turkey should stay out of Syria
Center for Strategic Research (SAM) Chairman Bulent Aras highlighted that there is a new focus in Turkey on acting unilaterally in international politics. "The survey shows that everybody is on their own in the international arena," he stated at the conference.
"Despite this trend in Turkey toward unilateralism, Turkish cooperation with the country's traditional partners in the transatlantic is still on the agenda," Aras added.
The survey revealed widespread opposition by Turks to intervention in neighboring Syria. Respondents were told that there has recently been discussion of an intervention in Syria, where the government has been using military force to suppress an opposition movement. They were then asked whether their government should stay out completely or intervene. In Turkey, 72 percent of respondents -- compared to 57 percent last year -- said Turkey should stay out of Syria while only 21 percent favored intervention.
The general attitude about immigration among Turkish public opinion appeared from the survey to be pessimistic as Turkey has had to absorb greater and greater numbers of refugees from Syria.
Asked whether respondents consider immigration to be more of a problem or an opportunity for their country, 54 percent of the Turkish public saw immigration as more of a problem; only 18 percent saw it as more of an opportunity.
The survey pointed out that Turks are worried about illegal as well as legal immigration. Two-thirds of Turkish respondents said they worry about legal immigration while only 33 percent said they do not. In the EU, the majority (69 percent) agreed that they are not worried about legal immigration.
On illegal immigration, Turkish concerns were in line with feelings in Europe. Sixty-nine percent of Turkish respondents said they are worried about illegal immigration; the figure for Europe was 71 percent.
Most of recent public debates on immigration have been dominated by temporary migration. As Syria continues to disintegrate as a state and with its civil war having been raging on for more than two years, Turkey has granted temporary protection to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Moreover, Turkey has recently faced an increased influx of asylum-seekers, mostly from Iraq and Iran.
When asked whether "immigrants take jobs away from native born" citizens of their countries, 70 percent of Turks surveyed agreed that immigrants do take jobs away from them.
Unluhisarcıklı noted that it seems Turkey is not ready for the number of immigrants it is currently receiving.
The Turkey public was also unhappy with its government's management of immigration policy. According to the survey, 61 percent of Turkish respondents stated that their government is doing a poor job on immigration.
The Turkish public also felt that democracy matters more than stability in the Middle East and North Africa region. The majority of Turkish respondents -- 57 percent -- said they would prefer democracy in this region while 25 percent said they would prefer stability.
US Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone emphasized the importance of the survey, saying, "Public opinion matters in democracies. We have a strong transatlantic community that shares a common identity that values democracy."
The annual Transatlantic Trends series aims to explore how Americans, Europeans and Turks view the transatlantic relationship as well as specific challenges facing the world in the year of the survey, according to the project's website. The 2013 survey marks the 12th such study conducted to analyze global trends, as well as threats, from the point of view of thousands of people from 11 EU countries, the US and Turkey.
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