Why Is Austria So Against Us?

BY SAMI KOHEN

MILLIYET- Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik's visit to Turkey this week raises the question of why this country is so opposed to Turkey's European Union membership. Among 27 European countries, Austria is the one most opposed to Turkey's EU membership. According to a Eurobarometer survey, only 5% of Austrians support Turkey's EU membership. This compares to 16% in Germany, 22% in France and even 19% for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). In line with this public tendency, the stance of all of Austria's political parties (except the Greens) is very negative. The Christian Democrats on the right and the Social Democrats on the left are both against Turkey's EU membership.

This is also true of the current government. Austria is determined to hold a referendum on Turkey's EU membership. It's quite telling that Austria is planning to apply this to Turkey, something which has never been applied to any other country. The referendum is planned for 2015. Austria is known not to favor EU enlargement, but it didn't stipulate such a referendum for Croatia, which is at the EU's door, or for such Balkan countries as Macedonia and Albania, both prospective EU members.

Its reasons can be found in a report issued by the European Stability Initiative (ESI). In sum, this report says the real reason for this situation lies in Austrians' lack of familiarity with Turkey. For example, students in Austrian schools are taught almost nothing about modern Turkey. Many Austrians still have the 1683 Siege of Vienna in their minds, which raises groundless fears that Turks will spread to Austria again, through another way.

Of course, there are other factors to add to this, in terms of the people's tendencies, such as the image created by Turks living in Austria and concerns that Turkish workers will flood there, if Turkey becomes an EU member. Meanwhile, conservative (Catholic) circles don't want a Muslim country like Turkey to become an EU member. According to the ESI report, some of the arguments used by Turkey have little effect on Austrians. For example, arguments that Turkey will contribute to the EU's safety, create a rapprochement between Europe and the Islamic world and strengthen the EU's economic potential found only 20% approval.

The Austrian public's opposition to Turkey's EU membership causes certain politicians to take an offensive stance and even work to block Turkey's membership talks. Following her meeting with Foreign Minister Ali Babacan yesterday, Plassnik was still talking about an open-ended process, which shows that Vienna's policy hasn't changed. The ESI report cites Austrian politicians' populist stance, but in fact they should discuss Turkey's EU membership in depth and provide information to people, instead of holding a referendum. Yesterday one Austrian reporter asked Babacan what he would do about the low support among Austrians. Of course, Turkey still has much to do to improve its image, but Austrian officials have a lot to do too. Now let me ask Plassnik: What will you do about this?

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