TEPAV | Mind the gap in 2020
Güven Sak, PhD - I see a huge gap between Turkey's daily political rhetoric and the aspirations of its ordinary…
I see a huge gap between Turkey’s daily political rhetoric and the aspirations of its ordinary citizens. Day-to-day politics is often about grievances, how Turkey’s Western allies have betrayed it, how it is alone and must defend itself. People seem to like that sort of thing, but maybe that’s just it — they seem to. When asked in private, the ordinary Turk again and again expresses a desire to be part of Western institutions, and we have mounting data to reinforce this observation. I was looking at the recent İKV (İktisadi Kalkınma Vakfı-Economic Development Foundation) survey, which indicates that 60 percent of Turks are ready to vote for Turkey to become a member of the European Union. This figure is at 66 percent among the 18–24 age bracket. These numbers alone seem to contradict the headlines of the past year, if not decade. How could this be?
It is all about economic integration and the poor state of the Turkish economy, if you ask me. 54 percent of Turks think that their country needs the EU economically. When looking at younger Turks, we see that 69 percent feel this way. Turks do know from experience that opening up and being part of the largest market in the world is by definition positive.
Turks also like NATO. According to a recent Metropoll survey, 58 percent of Turks want to stay in NATO, which marks a 4-point increase between July and December. Note especially, that 70 percent of AKP voters would like Turkey to remain a member of NATO. Yes, President Erdoğan sometimes has a complicated way of channeling that sentiment, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
The complication can make life difficult for our allies sometimes, but not impossible. Turkish support for NATO is just another instance of integration-based decision making, if you ask me. Even Ankara’s attempt to veto NATO’s Baltic plan against Russia, just to get the attention of its Allies on its own regional anxieties, has shown that Turkey is a politically equal partner in NATO’s decision making process. NATO needs the political consent of all its members, including Turkey, to take action. Turkey has been using this mechanism to communicate its political concerns. The system is working, albeit with some difficulty.
When asked how Turkey should respond to competition between Russia and the United States in our region, however, Turks want to stay neutral. Since last July, the share of survey respondents saying that Turkey has to stay neutral has declined from 55 percent to 50 percent according to December Metropoll survey. I think this is because Turks want to belong to these institutions, but don’t feel like they actually belong in them. It’s all about that feeling of unfair treatment, injustice, I presume.
Turks do want to join the EU to increase their welfare, but only 23 percent believe that this will eventually happen. Young Turks have higher hopes, but even among them, only 28 percent believe that we will become full members of the EU. 75 percent of Turks believe that the EU is good for their economic welfare, 57 percent think that the EU is good for Turkey’s human rights and democracy record, and only 45 percent think about free movement in Europe. Again and again, we see the idea here that membership in these institutions would make Turkey a nicer place to live, but enthusiasm is dampened by the idea that membership isn’t likely, or even possible.
The United States’ threat of imposing sanctions on Turkey appears to be an important factor in this perception of being unfairly treated . 34 percent of Turks are saying that such sanctions would hurt the Turkish economy. 25 percent think that the S-400 purchase is important for Turkey’s national interest, but nevertheless sanctions will negatively influence Turkey. In total, this makes around 60 percent of the population thinking that the economic impact of sanctions will be negative. That may be why the investment appetite is so hard to revive in the country. If people think that their country is going to be punished by its bigger ally, why not wait until that punishment is over?
I have to say, it’s strange that we still have polling on how our NATO allies might be planning to hurt us. So in 2020, try to get past the political rhetoric coming out of Turkey, and listen to the man on the street and focus on that feeling of injustice.