03 May 2007

European Public Opinion and Turkey’s Accession

Making Sense of Arguments For and Against

Antonia M. Ruiz-Jiménez / José I. Torreblanca

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EPIN Working Paper No. 16 / 52 pages

Turkey’s accession to the European Union is one of the most controversial and divisive topics the EU faces. Both EU governments and citizens are deeply divided on whether Turkey should become a member or not. This paper takes an in-depth look at European citizens’ attitudes towards Turkey’s accession to the EU and explains which elements are key in determining support for or opposition to Turkish membership. We use new data, derived from the new questions measuring citizens’ attitudes towards Turkey that have recently been introduced in Eurobarometer questionnaires. We prove that views for and against Turkish membership are multidimensional and that citizens use different arguments for both positions. In particular, we show that the likelihood of supporting or opposing Turkey’s membership depends on whether citizens adopt a perspective that is utilitarian (resting on costs and benefits), identity-based (founded on Turkey being part of Europe) or post-national (linked to the view of a rights-based EU emphasising democracy and human rights). The main findings are as follows: first, support for Turkey’s membership is mostly based on post-national arguments; second, opposition to Turkey’s accession is mainly connected with identity-related arguments; and third, instrumental reasons (costs/benefits) play a less relevant role. Turkey’s future membership in the EU, we conclude, will thus not be won or lost at the public opinion level on the material plane (costs/benefits) but on the relative weight of post-national visions of the EU vis-à-vis more essentialist visions of Europe. The key to Turkish EU membership, we suggest, may well lie in the way accession is argued and justified, and not wholly in the way it is negotiated.