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Turkey’s Europeanization: Conspiracy or Democracy?

Turkey’s Europeanization: Conspiracy or Democracy?

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This policy brief argues for a more hands-on approach for the EU in Turkey.
This policy brief argues for a more hands-on approach for the EU in Turkey.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Nov 12, 2013
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05/15/2014

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Summary:
The EU is confused
about how to inuence Turkey’s democratization course. When Turkey had a viable EU membership prospect, EU conditionality steered democratization efforts. But Turkey’s EU accession process was stied due to the Cyprus problem and civilizational compatibility questions, rather than on the basis of democratization decits. The setbacks Ankara incurred in its regional strategic positioning and challenges in re-engineering society would presumably lead Ankara to re-embrace the EU anchor. However, the grounds for establishing a new Turkey-EU solidarity around an EU vision for Turkey are weak. Without a fundamental change in how the Turkish leadership talks about the EU and treats its critics, a turnaround in the mood is unlikely. Without clear-cut carrots and sticks, can the EU’s soft power in this country be salvaged? Under these circumstances, is the EU impotent in terms of Turkey’s democratization?
Analysis
 Turkey’s Europeanization: Conspiracy or Democracy?
by Diba Nigar Göksel
November 12, 2013
Analysis
W󰁡󰁳󰁨󰁩󰁮󰁧󰁴󰁯󰁮, DC • B󰁥󰁲󰁬󰁩󰁮 • P󰁡󰁲󰁩󰁳 B󰁲󰁵󰁳󰁳󰁥󰁬󰁳 • B󰁥󰁬󰁧󰁲󰁡󰁤󰁥 •
 
A󰁮󰁫󰁡󰁲󰁡 B󰁵󰁣󰁨󰁡󰁲󰁥󰁳󰁴 • W󰁡󰁲󰁳󰁡󰁷 •
 󰁵󰁮󰁩󰁳
OFFICES
Introduction
On October 16, the EU’s progress report on urkey was released. As expected, positive remarks and harsh criticism co-exist. An effort to keep the negotiation process on track sets the tone. In reality, the EU is conused about how to influence urkey’s democratization course. When urkey had a viable EU membership prospect, EU conditionality steered democ-ratization efforts. But urkey’s EU accession process was stifled due to the Cyprus problem and civilizational compatibility questions, rather than on the basis o democratization defi-cits. Tereore the EU’s leverage over urkey’s democratization has been seriously hindered, particularly given that Ankara’s government is domes-tically popular and holds supposed geostrategic leverage. Proponents o urkey’s EU process have been geared at keeping hope alive, arguing that there is no drama on the horizon o urkey-EU relations, that the process will not derail, and that rejuvenation is just around the corner. Tere were hopes vested in the elections o heads o state in France in 2012 and Germany in 2013 or a turn-around in EU attitudes. When political polarization grew in the summer, Pres-ident Abdullah Gul hinted that the EU accession process was a vision around which entrenched social divides could be bridged. Cautious optimism increased that a EU-indexed agenda might be embraced as a saeguard o urkey’s pluralism. However, keeping hopes rom dimming is a challenge. Tough a social democrat won in France, a radical departure in the French posi-tion toward urkey has not been observed. Te German elections did not deliver new urkey-related balances either. Te European Parlia-ment elections o May 2014 will determine the next president o the European Council, president o the European Commission, and high representative or oreign affairs.
1
 A glance at the trends in Europe, with right wing parties and anti-immigra-tion positions gaining ground, does not bode well or urkey. Afer the Gezi Park protests, the firing o many critical journalists, intimidation o businesspeople associated with disloy-alty, measures to deter students and proessionals rom protesting, and deliberate exacerbation o social polar-ization hardly encourage optimism
1
 
Analysis
2
 
Analysis
The setbacks Ankara incurred in its regional strategic positioning and challenges in re-engineering society would presumably lead Ankara to re-embrace the EU anchor. However, the grounds for establishing a new Turkey-EU solidarity around an EU vision for Turkey are weak.
with regard to urkey’s normalization on its own devices. One problem is the politics o conspiracy. Another is the creeping ear that democratization
a la Turkey 
 is not going to produce Europeanization. Te setbacks Ankara incurred in its regional strategic positioning and challenges in re-engineering society would presumably lead Ankara to re-embrace the EU anchor. However, the grounds or re-establishing solidarity are shaky. AKP representatives have stirred Euro-skepticism among their constituencies by accusing their European counterparts o trying to sabotage urkey’s regional prowess. Tese conspiracy theories have also alienated urkey’s advocates in the EU. Meanwhile, AKP-critics perceive EU efforts to positively motivate the urkish government as appeasement, a position grounded in another set o conspiracy theories holding the West respon-sible or the rise o AKP. Without a undamental change in how the urkish leadership talks about the EU and treats its critics, a turnaround in the mood is unlikely. Without clear-cut carrots and sticks, can the EU’s sof power in this country be salvaged? Under these circumstances, is the EU impotent in terms o urkey’s democratization?
Is Europeanization a Conspiracy?
When the uprisings commonly reerred to as the Gezi Park protests broke out in urban centers o urkey this spring, the government attributed them to international actors bent on preventing the rise o urkey as a regional leader. Prime Minister Recep ayyip Erdoğan pointed primarily to Western players as the culprit. Tis has ed into the charac-terization o government critics in urkey as undemocratic, Islamophobic, and unpatriotic. Setting the debate on these paradigms practically renders any opposition as politically incorrect.Ironically, almost a decade ago, AKP
critics
 also perceived an international conspiracy by the West — though in their  version the plot was in avor o AKP. Te presentation o the urkish realities as “living proo” that Islam and democracy could co-exist was perceived as a sel-serving pro-AKP conspiracy. While the United States searched or a partner in the region to shoulder burdens, Europeans, albeit incoherently, appeared to seize the opportunity to find an alternative to membership or urkey. Te AKP’s so-called leverage over its Arab brothers granted it geostrategic trump cards and immunity rom domestic critics. Brussels first embarking on an accession process and then clumsily stalling it had already lef urkey lacking a compass. As the AKP basked in the light o the Arab Spring, opponents o the government perceived an affirmation o their conspiracy theories playing out. It looked like urkey’s course had orever changed, and by nature o this course, it could only be driven by the AKP. In retrospect, Washington’s search or a model or the Arab countries, coupled with the ill-ate o urkey’s EU membership process and weak domestic opposition, trapped urkey in a system o very weak checks and balances. Among AKP critics in urkey, resentment toward the West lingers, in effect limiting the influence o the EU in urkey, and ironically enabling AKP to dismiss EU prescriptions at its convenience.
Democratization versus Europeanization
Fall 2013 witnessed a democratic step orward with the lifing o obstacles or covered women (those wearing Islamic attire) to attend university and work in state insti-tutions, including the parliament. However, the regular moralizing rhetoric o the prime minister (ollowed by policy adaptations) casts an illiberal shadow on this and
 
Analysis
3
 
Analysis
The breakdown of traditional nationalist taboos in Turkey’s democratization debates has been a result of Europeanization.
other reedoms that have been granted. Meanwhile, Alevi, Kurdish, and Greek Orthodox communities had concrete expectations or rights that were lef unaddressed by the September 30 democratization package. Furthermore, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens have basic rights problems that could have been alleviated with simple wording adaptations to anti-discrimination clauses. More generally, the eatures o the political culture and system that lead to selective justice, unchecked power, censorship in the press, and politization o personal liestyle choices are ever more prevalent.Implying the resistance in society to some o the expected reorms, the prime minister explained that steps could not be taken
despite
 the nation. Tis raises the question, does the ballot box not necessarily bring about European values and rights in this country? Or can it not yet, without leader-ship reflecting a strategic choice in this direction, or without a viable prospect o membership? When the country aces local, presidential, and parliamentary elections in the next year and a hal, this is a critical question. Te breakdown o traditional nationalist taboos in urkey’s democratization debates has been a result o Europeaniza-tion. However it has come at a time o excessive domestic power consolidation, political showdown, loss o a viable EU membership goal, and alternative visions involving urkey’s leadership in the Middle East. Tus it has brought about some very un-European tendencies. Te parameters that have ramed the thinking o urkish opinion leaders until recently assumed that democratization was linked to Europeanization. oday, this cannot be taken or granted. Debates on any given night on urkish V can include questioning o urkey’s undamental choices rom the 1920s onwards — ranging rom the wisdom o choosing the Latin alphabet, adopting a nation state model, using the Gregorian calendar, or abolishing the Caliphate. Questions abound about whether these decisions were part o a grand Western conspiracy to prevent urkey rom leading a united Islamic bloc.
Integration without Accession — A Gamble?
How can the EU influence urkey’s uture choices? I the EU criticizes Ankara more harshly and the urkish leader-ship responds with even more negative rhetoric about the EU, this could supposedly increase bitterness in hal o the country, and deadlock the relations urther. On the other hand, the EU’s appeasement o the government in ace o  violations is also a blow to the EU’s transormative power in urkey, and reinorces the ear and atalism that is barring critics rom actively joining the political arena. I the EU accession process is derailed, it will certainly not be democ-racy that strengthens in urkey. But without a stick at hand, such as the threat o suspension o the accession process on the basis o democratic criteria, the EU is unable to affect the personal and political expediency calculations o urkey’s political elite, which understands the importance o the EU anchor or maintaining the relatively stable status quo o the political and economic order in urkey. Chugging along in urkey’s EU accession, opening one more chapter or negotiations, and meanwhile investing in more and deeper people-to-people exchanges between urks and Europeans or a long-term convergence o visions and capabilities, appears to be the least risky and most likely course. Much o the debate in the EU among riends o urkey is now ocused on how urkey can be
integrated 
 absent a viable accession process, through, or example  visa liberalization — or at least using the available leeway in the Schengen visa code to oster increased mobility — increasing educational exchanges, and supporting urkish civil society through more flexible instruments. o be effective, in addition to enabling the young genera-tion to have “European experiences” through exponentially increasing travel and education opportunities, tailor-made initiatives or civil society and media are needed. o make the EU relevant or young urks involved in shaping the uture o their country, engaging community leaders that have emerged across the country afer urkey’s Spring season protests, strengthening the watchdog capabilities o

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