Young Turks a major obstacle to Turkey's EU goals

Wed Sep 2, 2009 4:31am EDT
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By Thomas Grove

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The license plate on Yunus Danacioglu's Turkish-made car carries an empty blue band waiting for European Union stars like those adorning automobile plates from Ireland to Bulgaria.

The only difference between his plate and others in Istanbul is that he has covered that band with a red and white Turkish flag, featuring a crescent and star, to show his loyalties.

"What do I think of the European Union?" Danacioglu, 20, said in a throng of Istanbul traffic. "Make Istanbul the capital of the European Union and then I'd support it."

Danacioglu, who works as a taxi driver, says it is more important to be proud of being Turkish than to pretend to be European, and surveys suggest many others in Turkey's huge and growing youth population feel the same.

That bodes poorly for Turkey's already troubled EU accession bid as a study in May showed that young people, once touted by Turkish politicians as an asset for aging Europe, are the group where opposition to joining the European bloc is strongest.

"Anti-EU attitudes are most prevalent in our youth," said Yilmaz Esmer, a political science professor at Bahcesehir University, whose study showed 32 percent of youth against joining the EU, a level higher than any other age group.

Of Turkey's 72 million people, more than half are under the age of 30 and that proportion will increase for the next 20-25 years, say demographers.

"Our youth seems to be less Western-oriented, more nationalistic and as religious as their older counterparts, which is due to our schools, our textbooks," Esmer said.   Continued...