- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

ANKARA, Turkey — Turks are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the European Union’s stringent stipulations for membership and are rethinking entering a club they have yearned to join for 40 years.

After the initial jubilation in December 2004 of securing an October date to begin accession talks, the need to make concessions on politically sensitive issues has engendered a tide of uncertainty in this expanding nation of 70 million.

In a poll conducted in May, 63 percent of the Turks who responded said that they would like to see their country attain membership — down from 75 percent in December.

“The general enthusiasm about membership is eroding, and as the EU demands become clearer, the public will shy away more and more,” said Hasan Unal, a professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara.

French and Greek officials called last week for Turkey to recognize the Greek Cypriot government in Cyprus or risk derailing its EU bid. This is part of a mounting list of demands from EU members that challenge Turkish identity and fundamental values, politicians and analysts here said.

“Europeans don’t fully understand the limits to patience on this side,” said Suat Kiniklioglu, director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “We’re not yet counting on Plan B, but the euphoria is gone.”

Expectations were raised after the December decision, as Turks anticipated an immediate flood of foreign investment and a decrease in unemployment. A disappointment has permeated the nation as no real benefits have accrued to date, said Emine Sirin, an independent member of Parliament.

Since December, many Turks have seen a significant change in the attitude of Europeans. As public opinion in most EU countries has crystallized against Turkish accession, European politicians have started taking a firmer stance as well.

One of the central reasons cited for the rejection of the European constitution in France and the Netherlands in May was disgruntlement with past and future enlargement of the bloc, especially for predominantly Muslim Turkey.

More worrying for Turkey is the German election scheduled for September, in which the Christian Democrats are favored to win. Their leader, Angela Merkel, is an adamant opponent of Turkish membership and instead advocates a “privileged partnership.” French President Jacques Chirac has vowed to hold a separate referendum on Turkey’s membership.

This is part of an increasingly unjust treatment of Turkey’s application, said Onur Oymen, the vice chairman of the Turkey-European Union Joint Parliamentary Committee, who points out that French citizens did not vote when Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania applied.

Some European politicians, emphatically led by the French, have called on Turkey to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as “genocide,” a red line for all Turkish politicians.

“People are disappointed with the double standards we are facing,” said Hasan Ali Karasar, a researcher at Ankara’s Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies. “What they ask for is against our tradition, culture, history and strategic location.”

Others are more cynical and think that the European Union is meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs to dissuade it from continuing with negotiations.

“What the EU is trying to do is frustrate us with unacceptable demands so that Turkey will say ‘We give up and don’t want to be a member,’” said Mr. Unal, the professor at Bilkent University. “This way, they don’t have to turn us down.”

A growing chorus of pundits in Turkey, frustrated with perceived EU interference in internal matters, is beginning to see a “privileged partnership” as an attractive measure. A special status would pull the country closer economically to the European Union but allow it to retain its sovereignty.

It would also restore a sense of balance to Turks, who currently possess little leverage in their discussion with the European Union, Mr. Unal said.

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