Turkey sees its interests increasingly better served by greater involvement in the Middle East, and is relatively untroubled by the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, according to an opinion poll today which highlighted the widening gulf between Ankara and the west.
Growing frustration in Turkey at the lack of progress towards joining the European Union, as well as strong popular hostility in Germany and France to having the Turks in the union, were also underlined by the survey.
The annual Transatlantic Trends survey was conducted in 11 EU countries, the US and Turkey, by the institution called The German Marshall Fund of the United States. The poll found that 20% of Turks believed their primary partners should be Middle East countries, while 13% favoured the EU. Compared with last year, that almost halved support for the EU while doubling the figure for engagement with the Middle East.
"It's only 20%, but it's a dramatic shift in just a year," said Bruce Stokes, an analyst with the fund.
The shift reflected in the poll perhaps relates to recent events: in May Turkey's government struck a nuclear fuel deal with Iran and voted against UN sanctions over Tehran, signalling a more robust regional foreign policy that alarmed western capitals; also, in the same month, the Israeli commando raid on the Turkish-organised aid flotilla to Gaza further entrenched Ankara's split with the west on Middle East disputes.
The study notes that Turkey is "almost certainly moving in a direction of less predictability on foreign affairs", regarding its "increasingly assertive foreign policy … Turkish public opinion seems to reflect the country's new focus on the Middle East." By contrast, support for integration with the west is seen to be haemorrhaging. Over the past five years, according to the poll, Turkish support for joining the EU has halved to 38%, while only a quarter of Turks now expect their country to join the union one day.