Friday, September 19, 2008

Erdoğan Unwisely Lambasts EU

At an iftar dinner on Tuesday, Prime Minister Erdoğan launched heavy criticisms against the EU, once again accusing EU politicians of holding Turkey to different standards than those to which other acceding countries have been held. From TDN:
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday complained of the pace at which negotiations are being opened on the 35 policy areas that candidates must complete, and asked the EU be fair towards Turkey during its accession talks.

His remarks followed criticism from the Turkish foreign minister on the pace of the accession process.

The process of opening and closing chapters in membership negotiations with the EU was prolonged unnecessarily, Erdogan said during a fast breaking dinner hosted Tuesday in Ankara in honor of foreign ambassadors and heads of foreign missions in Turkey.

"The number of chapter headings were fewer before. Before we even entered this process, opening and closing of chapters was not even an issue. Chapters were opened and closed. But now we are struggling for this," he was quoted by Anatolian Agency as saying.

He said this was not a fair approach, adding Turkey expected the EU to adopt the same approach it did with other candidates.

The EU opened the negotiations on two chapters of "company law" and "intellectual property law" in June in the accession talks, which began in 2005.

Although the opening of two new chapters signals progress in membership negotiations, 15 of 35 chapters remain suspended. The EU had suspended eight chapters in December 2006 due to Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels before the Union ends its isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

Erdogan also said Turkey was not asking for privileges.

"We say: we want you to give us the same rights you granted to others (candidates) before us. If you are seeing us as a burden --then that's a different story-- then say so. But you should know that Turkey is coming to relieve you of your burden, not to be a cause of burden. You should view Turkey like this," he said.

"However, we see that the EU is not as fast as Turkey in regards with negotiation chapters," said Erdogan, adding the EU made a habit of opening only two chapters at a time, thus slowing down the process.
Click here for the story from TDZ. For past analysis of the utter futility of these remarks, see Aug. 2 post. For a similar analysis of this most recent event, see Gareth Jenkins in today's EDM. From Jenkins:
There is no doubt that Erdogan has a point. It is no secret that although several EU member states are enthusiastic supporters of eventual Turkish accession, others—not the least France, which currently holds the EU presidency—have reservations about ever allowing the country to become a member. But the statements by both Erdogan and Babacan also demonstrated how far Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains from understanding the nature of the accession process or even the EU itself.

It has recently become fashionable in the pro-AKP media to blame the country’s current ills—including the economic slowdown and the government’s lack of attention to the EU accession process—on the closure case that was filed against the party on March 14 (see EDM, March 17). The AKP has, however, introduced no substantive EU reforms since the accession process was formally inaugurated in the early hours of October 4, 2005.

In his speech to the foreign ambassadors on September 16, Erdogan lambasted the EU for refusing to close any more chapters in the accession process. “In the past, chapters used to be opened and closed. Now, unfortunately, they are only opened,” lamented Erdogan (Radikal, Hurriyet, Vatan, Zaman, September 17).

Erdogan was referring to the EU’s decision in December 2006 to suspend negotiations on eight chapters and refuse to close any others until Turkey extended its 1996 customs union agreement with the EU to include the Republic of Cyprus, which became an EU member in May 2004. Turkey has long refused to recognize the Greek Cypriot government of the Republic of Cyprus or its authority over the entire island. Nevertheless, in order to ensure the official opening of accession negotiations in October 2005, the AKP signed what has become known as the Ankara Protocol in July 2005, in which it agreed to extend its customs union to the Republic of Cyprus, including opening Turkey’s ports and airports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes. It was Turkey’s refusal to honor this commitment that led to the December 2006 suspension of the eight chapters and the refusal to close any others. The AKP still appears unaware that refusing to sign the Ankara Protocol could have been defended as a matter of principle; signing and then refusing to implement it simply looks dishonest.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

EU Troika Meets in İstanbul

The EU Troika met Monday to discuss the status of the accession process. Troika meetings bring the Turkish Foreign Minister together with the current and incoming presidents of the EU--France and the Czech Republic, respectively--and the EU Commission. Olli Rehn, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, called on Turkey to enact the sweeping consitutional change it had promised to introduce in fall 2007, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan again unproductively criticized the EU for not opening up more chapters of the acquis. From TDZ:
The European Union has urged Turkey to overhaul its military-inspired Constitution to break out of a cycle of annual political crises and move forward with its disputed EU membership bid.

"Now is the time for Turkey to update its constitution to reflect the country and society it has become and to consolidate rights and freedoms for its citizens," Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said after talks with Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. "These reforms are necessary not only for Turkey's EU prospects but essentially for Turkey to break the cycle of its -- I dare to say -- annual political crises," he said.

Rehn said Ankara should take advantage of the end of the latest crisis, when the Constitutional Court last month rejected a public prosecutor's effort to ban the ruling party, to pursue reforms with renewed vigor. But Turkish analysts say that seems unlikely because of continuing political tensions, an economic slowdown and local elections next year.

Babacan said Ankara was pressing ahead with an ambitious reform program, called the Third National Program, to achieve its goal of full EU membership, but EU support was also necessary to complete the process. "We will continue to take steps for the opening of new chapters. We believe the Turkish people deserve a better quality of life," he said.

French Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who chaired the talks after Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner left Brussels early, pledged that Paris would conduct the negotiations impartially despite President Nicolas Sarkozy's strong opposition to eventual Turkish membership.

Jouyet said France expected to open more chapters -- or policy areas -- for negotiation during its six months in the EU chair, which run until the end of December. Rehn said the chapters on free movement of capital and on information society and media policy were ripe for opening soon.

But Babacan referred pointedly to two areas on which France has blocked negotiations. "Turkey is also ready, for example, to open the chapters on economic and monetary policy and on culture and education, but there are some political considerations in play that are preventing that," he said.

He also said Turkey was ready to negotiate on energy policy, a key area for cooperation with the EU, which is seeking to diversify its energy sources away from dependence on Russia.
Mehmet Ali Birand considers Turkey's "foot dragging" in his column in today's TDN.

Dawkins' Site Banned at Behest of Prominent Islamist

Another loss for Internet freedom . . .

From BIA-Net:
Istanbul’s Şişli 2nd Criminal Court of Peace has banned world famous evolutionist Prof. Richard Dawkins’ internet site ( in Turkey on the grounds that Adnan Oktar’s personality was violated by this site.

The court reached the decision to ban the site on September 3. The site was accused of containing insults against Oktar’s (known as Harun Yahya too) book titled “Atlas of Creation”.

The only explanation given to the viewer is “Shut down by court order”
The internet users who try to reach the site come across a statement saying that ‘The access to the site has been banned by court order’; no explanations about why, when and by which court order the site has been banned are given. Oktar had managed to shut down the Google Groups in Turkey before as well.

According to Yasemin Arpa from NTV, Oktar filed a lawsuit for the damages of mental anguish against Oxford professor biologist and thinker Richard Dawkins in the amount of 8000 YTL (about 4000 Euro). Dawkins' book The God Delusion is a best-seller in Turkey.
The ban of Dawkíns' site is facilitated by a law passed in May that allows individuals to petition courts to have websites shut down. The law is heavily protested by rights activists, and is likely to continue to be a serious issue. The May law also created the Telecommunications Directorate, through which the government is allowed to shut down websites without a court order. Other law passed in November requires ISP's to catalogue the Internet activities of their customers for one year.

Interestingly, many cases of Internet censorship consist of banning content offensive to secularists/nationalists. In the Dawkins case, the offensive content is evolutionist, and while Dawkins is an extremely controversial figure inside Turkey, it is significant that Islamists are using the new censorship laws to further their political agenda. Use of such laws by rigid secularist and Kemalist groups does not fit with the government's stated objective of expanding freedom for a variety of views and lifestyles.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

EU Ambitions and Political Realities (Part II)

Click here for Part I.


CARTOON FROM The Economist

Despite the tremendous success of the reform revolution inspired by the first and second national programs, reform had slowed down by the time Turkey was officially granted accession (and a new Accession Partnership adopted in January 2006). Many observers referred to the slowdown as a sort of stumbling, and perhaps characterized by fatigue akin to that experienced after running the first third of a marathon race, the slow pace has seemed to take Turkey off the accession track. Not only did lawmakers not move much further along in their efforts to implement the national program, but the hopeful spirit that had driven so much of the reform revolution began to be stifled by growing resentment of European demands, a return of problems over Cyprus and with the Kurds, and by the rising tide of a revamped Turkish nationalism more trenchant than before.

The European Commission's 2006 progress report reflected EU frustration, remarking that progress was "satisfactory," a much less enthusiastic characterization of reform efforts than had appeared in earlier reports, and stating critical changes need to be made in the areas of freedom of expression, freedom from torture, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, respect for the decisions of the ECHR, curbing corruption, and women's rights. Of particular concern to EU politicians were amendments made to the Anti-Terrorism Law in June 2006 that further restricted freedom of expression and press rights, as well as further broadening the number of offenses that can be considered terrorist acts under the law and significantly curtailing the procedural rights of defendants and detainees (e.g., suspects may be detained for 24 hours before being granted access to an attorney, and under certain circumstances security officials may attend meetings between attorneys and suspects). The annual progress report came on the heels on the heels of another, much sterner report issued by the European Parliament in September. Both reports were highly-critical of continued human rights abuses by the Turkish state, and expressed concern about the effect of renewed hostilities between the PKK and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to which the Anti-Terrorism Law was a response. Also documented was the interference and lack of civilian control over the armed services, in particular the Gendarmerie, and the continued use of torture and detention. The European Parliament characterized reform efforts as "slow" and "uneven," and both reports emphasized continued restrictions on the freedom of expression.

The ultimate nadir in EU-Turkey relations came in December 2006 when Turkey refused to lift its embargo on Cyprus. As a result, the EU suspended accession talks on eight chapters of the acquis and barred closure of any policy chapters until Turkey opened its ports. The suspension came about after Turkey reneged on a pact it made in 2005 to open its ports to Turkish goods upon Cyprus' entrance into the EU-15 Customs Union. Its implementation of this additional protocol to the Union was pointedly noted in both 2006 reports. Long a thorn in Turkey's accession process, resolution of a divided Cyprus forces AKP to tread a thin line so as to not be accused of "selling out" the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and sparking a nationalist tide against it that could well involve the military. In 2006, the issue was even more sensitive since it came immediately before elections. As of today, only one chapter of the acquis (science and technology in June 2006) has been closed. Five chapters opened in 2007, and two more opened just this June, will remain so as a result of Turkey's refusal to open its ports to Cyprus (see June 18 post). Of course, suspension of the closure of chapters does not at all prevent Turkey from moving forward with reforms that will be required in order to negotiate the much more difficult chapters of the acquis to come.

2007 marked an increasingly difficult year in Turkey-EU relations. Following the assassination of Hrant Dink in January, European criticism of Turkey's restrictions on freedom of expression became even more fervent and the overall tone of relations quite somber. Suspicions that Dink's murder was linked with actions by the security forces only heightened concerns about lack of civilian authority over security forces after suspicions had already risen in 2006 surrounding their involvement in the bombing of a bookstore in the southeastern city of Şemdinli in what seemed an extra-judicial execution. Also catching the attention of many Europeans in 2006 was the murder of Italian priest Andrea Santoro whose murder gave way to concern about discrimination and violence against Turkey's religious minorities. The April 2007 murders of four missionaries and two Turkish Christian converts in Malatya intensified what many Europeans saw as an essential division between their values and those of Turks.

As if the Dink and Malatya murders were not enough, the EU process was further stunted by the presidential crisis in April, and by what some have referred to as 'the email coup.' (For a detailed account of these events, see Walter Posch's occasional paper, “Crisis in Turkey: Just Another Bump on the Road to Europe?” Occasional Paper No 67 (European Union Institute for Strategic Studies, June 2007).) Despite the eventual popular election of President Gül over military protests, the events reminded Europe that Turkish politics were far from free of military intervention. Of particular concern were raids on newspapers like Nokta, which had been critical of the military. The raids were conducted by security forces, and designed to send a signal about the limits of press freedom. Although hopes were high that reform would pick up once the presidential crisis was resolved and AKP armed with an expanded popular mandate, little action was made in the fall of 2007. Although AKP did introduce and successfully pass an amendment to the constitution that made the election of the presidency subject to popular vote, most of the government's attention was focused on containing mounting PKK violence in the southeast. Amidst rising concerns about violence and increased attacks by the PKK, a virulent form of Turkish nationalism was beginning to reassert itself in the form of xenophobia, hate speech, and attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.

As concern over the government stalling in lieu of passing more reforms started to mount in 2006, European and Turkish observers began to wonder if AKP was as serious about pursuing EU membership as it first seemed. Although neither AKP nor Turkey can hardly be faulted for the slow pace of the reforms, with a large mandate and the political clout with which it comes, many are left to speculate. In November 2005, Ali Babacan, chief negotiator of the accession, found himself having to manage his negotiation responsibilities alongside his post as economic minister, and then as foreign minister. To some EU politicians, AKP's placement of so much responsibility on one person reflected an attitude on the part of AKP that accession negotiations were not of critical importance. Many wondered if the slow pace of reforms had anything to do with a case in the ECHR in which the Court ruled in November 2005 that the türban ban at universities did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Since this is one of the principal reforms conservative Muslims wanted changed and one of the key reason why they supported the liberal reforism inspired by Turkey's EU bid, some hypothesized that AKP had lost the support of its conservative Sunni Muslim base, and thus the political will and intra-party solidarity to move earnestly forward with the reform process. Some politicians opposed to AKP began to use the slowdown as a political weapon against the party, which they continue to argue is using the pro-EU reform agenda only as a means to curry EU favor and solidify support in its incipient stages. However, few of these politicians are themselves serious about EU reform, and AKP remains the only political party capable of pursuing EU membership and not completely dominated by the Euro-skeptic nationalism described above. However, European impatience and a note of worry is sounded in the Commission's 2007 progress report issued in November.

As the TBMM headed into 2008, hope was high that the spring would bring a whole host of reforms reminiscent of the first years when the party was in power and of the reform revolution that ensued after Helsinki. In particular, after the 2007 elections, AKP had promised introduction of a new civilian constitution. However, disappointment came as AKP became bogged down in the divisive politics of the headscarf (see Jan. 20 post), and was soon dragged into a fight with the Kemalist establishment. While the AKP-led TBMM did manage to pass meager reform of Article 301 and Foundations Law, the impact of the work was minimum when compared against all the work that is yet to be done. EU-inspired reform efforts continue to be stalled as human rights monitors record increases in cases of torture, speech code prosecutions, and police impunity.

Once lavished with praise by EU politicians, the ruling party's fast and aggressive pursuit of the headscarf amendments and the high risk to which AKP exposed itself has caused many to ask why it was not able to take similar risks in relation to other issues. Article 301 reform is a case in point. Despite AKP's stated commitment to eliminating undue restrictions on freedom of expression, the meager amendment AKP passed—in lieu of a bolder amendment that would have eliminated Article 301 prosecutions altogether—translated as reluctance on the part of AKP to pursue serious reform of the restriction (see May 8 post). The headscarf amendments required a 2/3 vote of the Parliament and faced serious opposition from the military, but amendment to Article 301 of the Penal Code required only a simple majority, which the party clearly had, and would not have so antagonized the military. Although the meager reforms made this spring were in many ways welcome steps forward, they do little to encourage reformers who have grown as convinced as ever that Turkey's politicians are simply not serious about major reform. Further, while in some ways the party can be said as meeting the demands of its base after being met with a surprising (and quite tricky) offer to work with MHP, its willingness to sacrifice the constitution and the whole momentum of the reform process jeopardized its position in the minds of many reformers.

Issued in May amidst the chaos of the closure case, the final version of the EU Parliament's report of Turkey's progress toward accession was not much chipper than before (see May 22 post). Of particular note is its inclusion of two strongly-worded amendments: one condemns the oppressive administrative actions taken in response to May Day celebrations, most especially the excessive and disproportionate police violence with which demonstrators were met; the other emphasizes the need to repeal all laws unduly prohibiting freedom of expression—a strong message that the cosmetic reform made to Article 301 is simply not enough. Also falling short is legislation designed to protect religious minorities. Although the latter was in many ways a more substantial gesture of AKP sincerity, it fell far short of a more comprehensive effort to address the discrimination of religious minorities. Indeed, the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) argued that the reforms actually situated religious minorities worse off than they were before.

With AKP now saved from closure, Europe will expect the party to ante up in terms of moving forward with EU-inspired reform. This means plans to introduce a new civilian constitution, and to do so in a way that facilitates public deliberation. It also means doing its best to unite the Euro-philes in the battle to surely ensue over the third NPAA.


In conversing with people about Turkish politics, one of the analyses that has struck me as the most succinctly descriptive was made by Turkey expert Hugh Pope when he repeatedly referred to EU-Turkey relations as a pendulum of reinforcing actions. When Turkey is off track in terms of making progress toward EU accession, political control usually flows to nationalists and hardliners with goals completely opposite of those possessed by Euro-philic reformers. Fitting this into the analysis given earlier about the country being torn between competing visions, it can thereby be argues that the country is generally either moving in one direction or the other. While 1999 launched Turkey on the path toward EU accession, when reform stalled as early as 2004, the country became under seige once more by the familiar set of problems. These problems, in turn, engender a return to the virulent forms of Turkish nationalism by which, at least in part, they are perpetuated. This internal dynamic is further complemented by a similar dynamic in regard to the external relations between Turkey and the EU. When the Turkish public, senses support from the EU, the Euro-philes tend to be empowered; however, when the opposite is true, the advantage is gained by the Euro-skeptics.

As Turkish perceptions of European support for Turkish accession seemed to decline, especially after German elections in 2005 brought the Christian Democrats to power, marking the loss of long-time accession ally Gerhard Schröder, the old vicious cycle of European criticism reinforcing Turkish nationalism and calls for self-sufficiency began again to define EU-Turkey relations. Human Rights Watch affirmed this phenomenon in a July 2007 report:

During the period 1999 to 2005 Turkey’s EU accession process provided an important incentive for reform, resulting in significant legislative changes and a reduction in reports of torture. Today, however, some EU member states appear to be wavering in their commitment to Turkey’s EU candidacy or are explicitly intent on reversing the EU Council of Ministers’ December 2004 decision to open membership negotiations . . . . Recent equivocal signs from the EU, which some believe is applying a double standard to human rights in Turkey, have undermined the reformists in Turkey and may have strengthened the hand of those opposing reform. What is more, such equivocation may undermine the leverage that the EU might otherwise have to promote human rights progress in Turkey. Human Rights Watch believes that the EU should send a strong message to Turkey that it can and will be accepted for membership as soon as it fulfills the main criteria set by the EU for all candidate countries. Keeping Turkey’s candidacy on track remains an important means of securing fundamental and hopefully irreversible progress on human rights.
More than just simple fatigue, the disenchantment of the Turkish public with the EU process seems to have a lot to do with a growing disillusionment of the eventuality that their country will one day join Europe. A German Marshall survey conducted last year polled only 26 percent of Turks as optimistic that Turkey will eventually join the EU, and based on my own conversations, I am surprised the number is so high. European moves such as those of some French politicians to run on platforms opposing Turkish accession have not been helpful in assuring Turks that they will be granted membership—even if the conditions are met. The principal reason for EU pessimism is that Turkish support for EU accession is correlated with the favorable attitudes of Europeans who exist on the other end. In short, when Turks sense that they are not wanted, their support for the EU drops. This explains why "when asked in June 2007 to name the country which they would most associate with 'warm feelings,' more Turks cited arch enemy Iran as their answer than the EU, according to a Transatlantic Trend survey carried out in 11 selected EU member states. On a scale from 0 to 100 degrees, the EU only reached 22 degrees - a 20-degree drop compared to 2006. Moreover, the majority of Turks considered EU global leadership 'undesirable' (54%)" (, June 3 post). Without support from Europe, Turkish politicians have less of an impetus to pass meaningful reform. While several Europeans might retort that Turkish reform should not be subject to outside political pressure, obstacles for major reform in Turkey are much harder to overcome when nationalist politicians can take advantage of a less EU-savvy public. European support is critical to maintain the political will that resulted in the drive for reform catapulted by Helsinki.

What Europe Should Do

Inasmuch as reform in Turkey is very much motivated by a favorable attitude of Europe toward Turkey's eventual membership, it is critical that politicians in Turkey and Europe work together to reinforce each others' efforts to democratize the country and promote human rights within its borders. What is needed of Europe is a policy of positive support for Turkish reform. Peter Uvin describes the aim of positive support as "creat[ing] the conditions for acheivement of specific human rights outcomes." Not a poor, developing country, Turkey is not dependent on Western aid like other countries grappling with enormous economic problems. However, the prospect of membership is conditional upon Turkey's fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria and a positive recommendation issued by the European Commission. This conditionality is reflected in the Commission's decision that accession talks can be suspended should the Commission find a persistent violation of the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Given Turkey's politics, the Turkish deficit in democracy and human rights has everything to do with ideology and the battle currently occuring within the country as to whether Turkey's moving toward Europe is a positive development.

While conditionality is indeed important to maintaining EU diplomatic levergage in terms of Turkish democratization, it very much functions as a double-edged sword. The "stick" approach to diplomacy tends to embolden the Kemalist old guard in that it causes many Turks to assume a defensive posture: "If we are not 'good enough' for Europe, so be it. We have, can, and will exist on our own." Thus, playing up the conditional aspects of EU membership can weaken the EU lever in causing a drop in popular support for the organization and raising skepticism that Turkey will ever join the EU. Hence, positive support is absolutely crucial to influencing Turkey's ideological battle, to complement the conditionality of membership so that Turks feel membership is much to their benefit and that the accession process is not merely an act of charity received from Europe that can be withdrawn at any moment. Through positive enforcement, a social consensus might emerge that is favorable to democratic and human rights norms. What is more is that such a consensus might also eventually integrate the Kemalist elite into its fold and bring an end to the polarized politics that have keep the country's political development in a state of virtual paralysis.

When European politicians boldly praise positive developments in Turkey, they empower the reformers and put pressure on the Kemalist oldguard to adopt a more consensual politics. Playing up conditionality can have the opposite effect by prompting this oldguard to engage in confrontational politics. An example of European positive enforcement working can be seen in the way in which Europe delivered the message of the Helsinki summit. After agreeing that Turkey's application for membership should be accepted, Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Günther Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, personally flew the invitation from Helsinki to Ankara. Photographs of the event were repeatedly broadcast on Turkish television and were instrumental in building the common base of popular support and the elite consensus needed to ignite the 2001-2005 reform process.

When the Turkish state takes actions that do not merit praise, condemnation can have the opposite effect of actually strengthening popular support for the condemned action. When strong condemnations are issued, especially on such issues as sensitive as the Armenian Question or the state's repression of Kurds, it seems that Turkey only further backpedals. Especially protective of their honor, many Turks take such offenses very personally, and especially when they are not accompanied by a nuanced understanding of what are often very complicated issues that some myopic European politicians fail to comprehend. Although the decision to suspend talks with Turkey on eight chapters of the acquis was indeed quite difficult given the level of Turkish recalcitrance and failure to meet earlier obligations in regard to Cyprus, a smarter diplomatic move might have been to work with Turkish politicians behind closed doors, and to avoid to every degree possible what ended up being interpreted by the Turkish population as an ultimatum. If the demand would have been accompanied by European moves to realize that Turkish Cypriots were also victims of the situation in Cyprus, and if the EU had been more willing (or able) to expand relations with Turkish Cyprus, the diplomatic meltdown that occurred might have been avoided. Instead of condemning Turkey as one might a petulant child, the EU should eschew paternalism and instead act in such a way as to empower the reformers.

Further, the EU should do all it can to rid the idea in Turkish minds that Europe does not want membership. According to the EU Barometer, Turkish support for EU membership dramatically dropped from an approval rating of 75-80 percent in 2004 to a low of 49 percent in the fall of 2007. To address this problem, EU politicians must do their best to show Turkey that Turkey detractors like Nicolas Sarkozy do not represent all Europeans. Sarkozy and other EU politicians seen as being "anti-Turk" get a lot of attention, especially in the Turkish nationalist press. Arguments that Turkey is of tremendous economic and security importance to Europe, often heard only in elite circles, should become more ubiquitous in Turkish public discourse and these efforts can be much abetted by pro-Turkey EU politicians engaging in better public relations efforts.

Additionally, EU politicians must work to educate their own populations as to the benefits Turkish membership offer the EU. Pursuant to this effort, steps should be taken to broaden discussion of Turkey's Islamic identity—arguments that might calm reactive Europeans and build support for a pluralist thinking. It is deeply and painfully ironic that those most opposed to Turkey's membership are those politicians with nationalist profiles and who are themselves skeptical of Europe's 'post-modern' value scheme. While politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy have justified their opposition to Turkish membership by pointing to low approval ratings, this does not prevent Sarkozy from ensuring that the French public is well-informed on the issue. Particularly shaming, but also revealing of the sneaky, condescending politics of those like Sarkozy are efforts to stifle debate of Turkish membership by pointing to public opinion, rather than making sincere efforts to engage the public in an informed discussion of Turkish membership. Positive efforts in this regard are exemplified by Spain's president, José Luís Rodriguez-Zapatero, who has played up the role of Turkey as a badly needed bridge between Europe and the Islamic World. These politicians' strong stand with AKP during the closure case should comfort AKP politicians, and again, Babacan and Erdoğan should do all that they can to return the favor.

Also critical to EU diplomacy is the rejection of any mention of a "second option" to full membership. Turkey already has an association agreement with the EU and such talk only discourages the reform process. Angela Merkel mentioned a "second option" during her election campaign, but soon dropped the proposal upon her election, claiming that the EU must hold true to its promises. However, Sarkozy and Austrian politicians like Sylvia Plassnik have picked up the "second option" proposal and have talked about it quite openly. Anything short of membership will simply offend Turks and undermine reform efforts, which would undoubtedly make full membership less likely—no doubt the aim of Sarkozy and Plassnik. At this point, there simply is no other option and EU association agreements fall far short of the diplomatic leverage over other countries' human rights policies when compared to the leverage and direction provided by EU accession and the Copenhagen criteria.

What Turkey Should Do

As to efforts to be made on the part of Turkish politicians, Euro-philes must work to keep EU politicians contented and meet European demands as best they can. Often put in a difficult position between the demands of the EU and those of the Euro-skeptics—whose base they must be careful not to arouse—EU reformers walk a delicate line. Nonetheless, Euro-philes must seize every opportunity possible to bring Turkey and Europe closer together by assuaging European fears and engendering a positive atmosphere for diplomacy that is to the mutual benefit of both. To this extent, the disastrously antagonistic and almost obsessive rhetoric of Foreign Minister Ali Babacan is horribly destructive and AKP should do whatever they can to restrain the outbursts of the Foreign Minister. Unfortunately, he is all to often joined by the Prime Minister, and this again raises serious questions about AKP sincerity as surely the party understands these moves to be counter-productive in and outside of Europe.

From talking to people on the street, the hope of EU membership is fading and, consequently, so is a major impetus for reform. Every time a raucous is made in the Turkish media about EU opposition, the result is a disenchantment that does not seem to ever be balanced with the great lot of support Turkey has in the EU. Hence, usually criticism plays right into the hands of the Euro-skeptics. Let the Turko-philes in Europe deal with the issue and if Turkish input is needed, it can happen behind closed doors. In the meantime, there is much to be done in Turkey and Turkish politicians won't win any favor with the European Commission if they continue to stall to finish the ample amount of work that still needs to be done.

The path to membership is no doubt a long one upon which Turkey has just started to tread. Olli Rehn, European Commisioner for Enlargement, envisions accession to be at least a ten-year process dependent upon the political reform to be adopted in accordance with the NPAA being consolidated, broadened, and properly implemented. This means that Turkey must continue to fulfill the Copenhagen criteria, and that the reform process is far from over. In order to accede, Turkey must harmonize its policy with that of the EU. In accordance with negotiations of the acquis, Turkey is still working in toe with its Accession Partnership Document (last amended in February, see Feb. 27 post). Turkey's recent draft of its NPAA will signify a renewal of its commitment to move forward with the acquis, thereby meeting the conditions laid out in the APD.

Euro-philes should also take heart in that despite the stalled reform process, the anti-democratic encumbrances of the closure case and the 'email coup,' and even the strong resurgence of Euro-skepticism, support for the EU grows stronger in the face of what are perceived to be anti-democratic posturings taken by some parts of the state. Right now, support for EU membership is at its highest-level since 2005 (see Aug. 9 post and April 11 post). AKP should take advantage of this recent boon in support of EU membership and move forward with the national program and the party's plans to adopt a new constitution. Such bold moves forward should mollify Europe’s frustration and resurrect the reform spirit that characterized AKP’s first years in power.

To be successful, adoption of a new constitution must do two things: first, it must affirm the country’s support for democratic institutions by further consolidating existing institutions while curbing the power of the anti-democratic institutions that have in the past stifled reform, namely the military and the judiciary; second, and perhaps more importantly, the new constitution should seek to protect the human rights of all Turkish citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, or sex. If AKP accomplishes both, then the party should prove itself to be more than simply an Islamist party with the sole intention of expanding the rights of its conservative Muslim base. Further, with the power of the military and the more authoritarian structures of the judiciary in firmer check, it should be easier for AKP to enact EU-inspired reform. Here, it should also be noted that successful passage of a civilian constitution will necessarily entail a level of trust between the governing party and the military, a re-negotiation of power that will not come easy and will need wise leaders from both elite groups, in addition to a powerful coalition of support at the grassroots. In terms of the impact of the proposed constitution in its relations with Europe, the more pluralistic Turkey allows itself to become, the more it will weaken the arguments of European nationalists like Sarkozy opposed to its entry.

Insofar as the government is able to begin anew its project of realizing the Copenhagen political criteria, most hopefully á la the adoption of a new civilian constitution, it will send a powerful message to the EU that Turkey is indeed ready to join Europe. Perhaps most significantly, it will steer Turkey toward the vision of the Euro-philes, and away from the vicious cycles wrought by a politics most aptly summarized as self-destructive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

EU Ambitions and Political Realities (Part I)

Of central importance to Turkish democratization and advancement of human rights is Turkey's relationship with the European Union. The benefits to be reaped from EU membership are great, but Turkey's politicians have long been divided on the issue. While some see membership as the final step in Atatürk's modernization of the country along European lines, the fulfillment of the great leaders' enormous and life-giving desire to see the Turkish Republic recognized as a formidable European power, others see the costs of membership as sacrificing the very tenets upon which the country was founded.

Fresh from surviving charges of anti-secularism that threatened it with closure (see Aug. 1 post), AKP, Turkey's ruling party, has released the country's third National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA) (click here for a draft complete with all sorts of grammatical oddities). The NPAA essentially lays out a game plan by which the Turkish government will work to harmonize Turkish law with that of the EU. In order to accede, Turkey must meet specific political and economic criteria, and in addition, align its policy with that of the EU according to 35 chapters of the acquis, each pertaining to different policy areas. These chapters will be unanimously opened and closed by the European Council throughout the accession process, and only upon closure of all 35 chapters will Turkey qualify for membership (see Aug. 21 post).

The third NPAA is a chance AKP to revivify Turkey's stalled EU accession process and rebolster the party's standing among European politicians and those Turkish liberals who had in the past supported it, but many of who have come to doubt its sincerity and/or competence in moving Turkey toward liberal democracy and eventual EU membership. Granted formal accession status in October 2005, the reform that had spurned enthusiasm from inside and outside the country slowed down. The reasons for this are manifold and have been largely referred to as "Europe fatigue." Most common among the many explanations for the slowdown is that many Turks, and perhaps even AKP, lost the political will to move forward with the reform process. Thus, this third national program will in many ways be a test for both the ruling party and the Turkish public.

As the Turkish Grand National Assembly (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi—TBMM) prepares to enact the EU-inspired legislation that will align Turkish law closer to European norms, Turks will again face heady questions about their country's future. Once again, 'Euro-philes' who desire to see Turkey enter the EU, and more significantly, move closer to international norms of human rights and democratic governance, will face off against 'Euro-skeptics' who are less keen to see their country make the sacrifices to its sovereignty upon which EU membership is conditional. The 'Euro-skeptic' opposition will be intent to defeat any reform they see as undermining Turkish sovereignty—e.g., that they see as weakening the state's authority in dealing with the country's ethnic and religious minorities (cultural rights/rights for religious minorities); that would roll back the speech codes prosecutors continue to wield against individuals critical of the state; and that would diminish the power of the military, and just as relevantly, the judiciary, bastions of the old elite anathema to those who think of popular sovereignty as the operative principle of democracy and see its expansion as key to democratic devolopment. Many Turks fall somewhere in the middle of these two Euroskepticism and Europhilia, and the poles themselves are far from being rigidly diametric.

The battle to take place is historical. The lure of membership in the EU can be explained by the promise of tremendous economic opportunities for Turkey (and for Europe), but it also has much to do with Turkey's historic aim to orient itself westward and the recognition of calls for major political reform being made by a burgeoning number of citizens. EU accession is a dynamic process in that it means aspiring member countries must not only adopt EU political norms, but in doing so, undergo political transformation akin to that which has brought about EU norms to begin with. While the Europe to which Atatürk turned was the imperial Europe of old, Europe has since much changed. Amidst the wreckage of World War II, Europe radically transformed itself into the post-national union that it is mythologized as today, and over a course of events particular to its own history, developed an overwhelming commitment to participatory democratic institutions and what is largely respected as the strongest human rights regime in modern history. Although, as Tony Judt argues, Europe is just now beginning to reconcile its present position with its pre-war history, it is very much the continent's post-war commitment to a rebirth founded on new values that most defines European identity today.

When Turgut Özal's applied for membership in 1987, Turks began negotiations with a Europe that was drastically different than it had been in 1923. Turkey had not digressed from the Europe Atatürk embraced in 1923; rather, Europe had moved on. As many Turks attempt to struggle more or less to catch up, or better put, generate a 're-birth' of their own, Turkey's relationship with the European Union raises critical questions about the international dimensions of political development. Driven by its new found attachment to democracy and human rights, and its determination to articulate both values in its international policy, particularly in its policy toward aspiring member states, Europe is pressing Turkey to improve its record on both counts. While Turkey's old political vision in many ways explains its contemporary political norms, the current state of Turkish governance will simply not suffice for entry; therefore, a new vision must be realized. As Turks struggle to grapple with the question as to what future path the country will forge for itself, Europeans who are keen to see Turkey a member state and/or who would like to see it politically develop along similar lines struggle to find the most effective diplomatic approach to suit their ends. For those Turks who have already decided that Europe is the path forward, their struggle is to find the best means at their disposal by which to realize international standards of human rights and good governance.


Much of the division surrounding European membership stems from competing visions as to how define modernity, best understood as the project in which Atatürk propelled the country upon its independence. Is EU membership the ultimate realization of Atatürk's embrace of European values or is membership in the new Europe a threat to the Kemalist foundation of Turkish state-society relations, undermining order and breeding so much chaos that the demise of the Turkish state could become a real possibility? Is Turkey ready and/or able to embrace modern European norms of universal human rights, decentralized governance, and pluralist democracy in which social differences are to be respected rather than feared as imperiling national solidarity?

Although the so-called 'Euro-philes' envision EU entry as a means to a more prosperous and free Turkey, the 'Euro-skeptics' question what are sometimes referred to as the 'post-modern' values that Europe has embraced since the end of World War II (for such a denunciation of 'post-modernism,' see the recent comments of new Commander of Land Forces, Gen. Işık Koşaner). Despite the Euro-skeptics fond endorsement of Enlightenment rationalism, they are leery of the supranationalism inherent in the European Union project and not comfortable with pluralist democracy and its concomitant values of multiculturalism, decentralized authority, freedom of expression, and government free from military influence. Comfortable in their minds' rarely questioned confidence in the inviolability of the nation-state, the idea of plurinational democracy seems little more than a pipe dream—an ivory-towerism, if not a Trojan horse delivered with imperial designs of destroying Turkey from the inside out. In marked contrast, Euro-philia is driven by a desire for change, a yearning to see Turkey pursue reform for its own benefit and the economic benefits concomitant with EU convergence. In contrast to Euro-skeptics, Euro-philes argue that while EU membership is the ideal end of Turkey's accession project, efforts to meet European demands by passing meaningful reform in and of themselves provide ample reason to justify the project. Avowed Euro-philes are a diverse grouping and consist of businessman intent to break into European markets, military officials who interpret membership as the realization of Atatürk's Westernizing ambitions, minorities who see EU government structures as a means by which to check their rights against the Turkish nation-state, and perhaps most surprisingly, some moderate Islamists who have come to believe in democratic pluralism and civil liberties as instrumental to their mission of seeking religious liberties and political participation traditionally denied by the Turkish state (for analysis of the latter, see April 13 post).

To understand this division, one must first understand something very basic about the construction of the Turkish nation-state out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. When Turkey was founded as an independent state, Atatürk embraced the European ideals of the age in a way that no Ottoman sultan had ever imagined and at his death in 1938, Anatolia looked and felt drastically different than it had at Turkey's founding in 1923. Indeed, Atatürk not only embraced European values, but emulated them. Modelling the new Turkic republic on the European states of the day, the "Immortal Leader" adopted European legal codes and replaced Ottoman institutions to resemble those of Europe. Central to this nation-building project was Atatürk's wholesale adoption of the same European-style nationalisms that were reshaping Europe. As David Fromkin sadly narrates in A Peace to End All Peace, Turkey was not alone in this endeavor, but was undoubtedly the most successful. Unlike other nation-states carved out of the former Ottoman Empire, the Turkish nation-state was not designed by Europeans, but by Atatürk. Building atop the nationalist ideology of the Young Turks who preceded him, Atatürk carved Turkey out along the same nationalist lines that had come to shape those communities in the Americas and Europe to which Benedict Anderson has referred as "imagined." As one of the first nationalist movements organized against imperialist power, Atatürk brought together the peoples of Anatolia as Turks, romanized the Turkish language, worked to establish nationalist narratives of a shared tribal past, and sought diligently to "Turkify" the Ottoman institutions that had previously governed the Anatolian heartland. An ardent admirer of the French Revolution, Atatürk assembled Turkish nationalism along French lines, an educated, noble project built in the name of modernity, progress, and Enlightenment rationalism. Indeed, many of Turkey's liberals have come to denigrate the Turkish nationalist project as "Jacobin," inferring that just as the French Revolution reached particularly troubling and misguided excesses, so do some similarly self-avowed Turkish nationalists.

The nation-state pervaded what was both a project for state and society and came to define Kemalism, a loose-based ideology prescribing the political order that is still very much descriptive of contemporary relations between the Turkish state and society. Kemalism was defined in 1931 by CHP, the country's only political party in operation at the time. If one was (is?) a Kemalist, one swore adherence to what CHP considered to be the six principles of the state's existence: secularism (bearing close resemblance to French laicism), nationalism (very much influenced by European conceptions of flag and country), republicanism (in the sense that the Jacobins rejected French monarchy only to install institutions that would hardly be considered democratic by contemporary definitions), populism (very much resonant in European discourse following the First World War as it placed the interests of the nation over those of class politics, feared in Europe as Bolshevik), revolutionism (Orwellian insomuch as this meant specific support of the Kemalist status quo), and statism (recognizing the dominance of the state in the economic realm along similar lines and thought of in relation to European étatisme). The endurance of Kemalism is evidenced by CHP's continued symbolic use of the six arrows (alti ok)in its party emblem. These principles were incorporated into the Turkish constitution in 1937 and continue to be the foundation of Turkish governance. (Here, it is important to note that CHP has undergone an evolution of its own—see Feb. 12 post, "Where Have All the Leftists Gone?).

However, while Turkey has held true to the inventions of old nationalisms, Europe has not. The modernity of the Jacobins has long since been surpassed by a new understanding of the modern. This new conception of modernity is no longer in harmony with the dogmas of Kemalism directing the Euro-skeptics. For the Euro-skeptics, these dogmas center around the paradigm of the Turkish nation-state and its inviolability. Their principal concern is survival of the Turkish nation-state, and believing it to be under attack by external and internal enemies, their politics is dominated by fear of the slightest conceptual retrenchment of the status quo and their arguments of the slippery-slope variety. For Euro-skeptics, as Turkey exists in a difficult neighborhood, national security is a prime concern. Even if Turkey did want to embrace Europe's post-modern values, it is not able to due to this challenging geography and the indigenous threats to its Enlightenment identity, namely political Islam and Kurdish separatism. The skeptics declare Turkey to be especially exceptional in these regards, and this logic is sometimes not easy to dismiss. While a post-modern conception of identity is certainly more accommodating of difference than a nationalist conception, would Western European nations have proved so accommodating if their social composition had resembled Turkey's in terms of religious and ethnic heterogeneity, and the sheer division of these fractures due to the traditional modes of life extant throughout so much of the country? Further, would Belgium or the Netherlands have developed so firm a commitment to pluralist democracy and human rights had they shared Turkey's physical geography?

For the Euro-skeptics for whom Turkey's security is paramount, EU reforms jeopardize the state's ability to protect itself from a unique set of threats. Some of these critics do not object to the idea of membership in and of itself, but argue that Turkey must be considered an exceptional case, and therefore, warrant different treatment. Other Euro-skeptics believe that Turkish entrance into Europe is a threat to Turkish cultural identity, a dilution of the cohesive Turkish nationalism that has seen the Turkish Republic through its many trials. The majority of Euro-skeptics hold that Turkey will be better on its own, and that though reform should not be dismissed, the Turkish nation-state should not be sacrificed to meet the demands of EU bureaucrats with little understanding of Turkey's historical, political, and cultural circumstances. An added dimension to Euro-skepticism is that membership in Europe indubitably means change for Turkey's ruling political class, and in many respects, this change means surrendering power to individuals, groups, and ideas that have historically been kept out of the state's Enlightenment-guided elite (for a class analysis, see June 8 post, "The Politics of Underwear").

In contrast, primary among the advocates for EU membership are democrats and liberal human rights advocates who have long criticized the more authoritarian aspects of the Turkish state. These individuals would like to see a stronger civil society develop in Turkey and a diminished role for the military within the Turkish state structure. Democrats call for a state that is controlled by the elected government and responsive to popular will. They argue that they are tired of military intervention in civilian affairs, and many favor adoption of a new constitution to replace the current one adopted under military tutelage in 1982. In turn, liberal human rights activists seek a greater expansion of freedom from state intrusion. These activists have long sought to abolish state restrictions on freedom of expression and association, and many support bringing an end to state torture, excessive police force and impunity, and the unfair trials engendered by Turkey's juridical policies. Many human rights activists also seek an end to the state's virtual non-recognition to the cultural rights of Kurds in the southeast and desire a Turkish southeast in which Kurds are able to speak, read, write, and broadcast in their own language. In advocating for EU membership, liberal human rights activists seek a state more restricted in the actions it takes against individuals while democrats aspire to realize a more viable public sphere in which public opinion might be better developed and articulated to a more responsive government. While by no means monolithic, cumulatively, the demands and activities of the Euro-philes are very radical when compared to the status quo, and the realization of the reforms upon which EU membership is conditional promises a dramatic transformation from the strong unitary state created by Atatürk in the 1920s.


Central to Turkey's political ambitions to join the European Union is the question as to whether Turkey can ever truly be European. Undeniably, Turkey is a unique country with a unique history that in many ways diverges with that of EU states, especially those of Western Europe. For one, Turkey is an Islamic country and as a result, has a culture that is in many ways rooted in Islamic identity. Further, Turkish cultural identity is very strong and is explained by a confluence of factors only part of which are relevant to European history. This said, as the EU has expanded eastward and as Europe has become more diverse thanks to growing immigrant populations, the concept of Europe has also broadened. With Kosovo now independent, the EU is eventually likely to be dealing with applications from two states with predominant Muslim majorities. As more attention is paid to how a 'post-national'—or perhaps better put, plurinational Europe—is capable of bringing peace and respect for human rights regardless of ethnicity and religion, even more attention is likely to be paid to the complex cultural confluences of Europe's eastern edges. This, in turn, should reinforce the concept of European identity as indeed quite porous and multicultural. (For an excellent work on plurinational democracy, see Michael Keating, Plurinational Democracy: Stateless Nations in a Post-Sovereignty Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).)

Turks have long-held ties to Europe that date to the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire. In this regard, it should be remembered that the Ottoman Empire existed at a crossroads of civilizations, thereby assimilating what many might consider to be "European values" of the Byzantines. As Ottoman conquest expanded into the Balkans, so did its assimilation of more "Western" identities, and so were its new Balkan subjects influenced by "Eastern" identities. Indeed, the ancestry of many Turkish families can be traced to the Ottoman Balkans where Christian and Muslim subjects co-existed under an Ottoman ethic of religious tolerance, by way of which it was not uncommon at all for "European" Christians to rise to high office and move fairly fluidly through the upper echelons of Ottoman society. Although such toleration and multiculturalism seems quite confounding to the modern mind, it should be realized that it was not at all strange to the Ottomans and is so now only as a result of the rise of the nation-state. Indeed, it was the ideological construction of nationalism that brought political structures like the Ottoman Empire crashing down. Nationalism was a challenge to the Ottoman regime of toleration and relegated the Empire to play "the sick man of Europe" up until its ultimate collapse at the end of World War I. It is bitterly ironic that the Empire's demise can also be attributed to what historically is a European illness.

Although Christian and ethnic minorities resided in peace for much of the empire's history, Ottoman war on Europe made the empire despised by Christian Europeans, the word "Turk" connoting a sense of the ruthless exoticism that cultivated an image of the Muslim-Turkish Ottoman Empire as being very much other than Christian Europe. Nonetheless, the Ottoman Empire was a full and powerful player on the European diplomatic circuit. When France went to war with the Hapsburgs, they elicited Ottoman support against their fellow Christian enemy by allying themselves with the Muslim Ottomans. In the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was included in the Concert of Europe, duly recognized as an important European power after its alliance with the British during the Crimean War.

Unlike Africa and much of Asia, Turkey escaped the dysfunctions wrought by European imperialism; it was not until the Treaty of Sèvres that Turks became subject to European designs, and it is no surprise that these new imperial bonds were soon cast off. Despite its ambivalence, the Ottoman Empire was by no means ignorant of European development, and throughout the nineteenth-century, sultans attempted major European-inspired reform in efforts to preserve the empire's territorial integrity and stem the ill-effects of the many nationalisms spilling into its borders. Commencing in 1839 under Sultan Abdülmecit, the Tanzimat reform period aspired to develop Ottoman political structures along more European lines.

Although Atatürk's emulation of Europe did not exist without important antecedents, when Turkey won independence in 1923, the shift toward Europe was radical, yet never pursued under the yoke of imperialism. In admiring manner, Atatürk adopted Turkey's civil code from the Swiss Civil Code of 1926, making only minor modificiations. The penal code was adopted from the 1899 Italian Penal Code, and the fledgling country's criminal procedural and commercial codes were adopted from Germany. While the civil and penal codes have been overhauled in the past ten years as fruits of previous national programs, few amendments had been made previously.

Atatürk's European proclivities went beyond government: in fashion, he replaced the fez for a European-style cap while going so far as to adopt European tastes in food and alcohol consumption. Perhaps most significant, the old Arabic script in which Ottoman was written was replaced by a new Roman script in which Turkish would be written. What some have referred to as Turkey's "European vocation" began at statehood, and it was Atatürk who set the course of Turkish political development along westward lines. While it can be debated as to whether Atatürk would be in favor of meeting the conditions for EU membership, there is little doubt as to his great affinity for Europe and uncompromising desire to push Turkey toward the West.


Turkey's "European vocation" was formalized soon after the end of the Second World War. Although Turkey was careful to avoid allying itself during World War II, it soon took its place in the new world order by becoming a founding member of the Council of Europe in 1949 and became a member of the Marshall-funded Organization of European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) in 1952. Joining NATO shortly after in 1952, Turkey was part of the organization's Southern Command alongside Italy and Greece, and as such sent troops to the Korean War. Throughout the Cold War and in sharp contrast to Eastern Europe, Turkey remained a bulwark of the West and an important buffer between it and the Soviets (now often referred to as "the East.") When the European Economic Community (EEC) was formed by treaty in 1957, Turkey applied for associate membership. The Ankara Agreement was signed soon after in 1963, and Turkey has since regarded it as the foundation for its European Union bid. Acknowledging the agreement's promise to eventually grant Turkey full membership (Article 28), President Ismet İnönü characterized Turkey's signature as a decision between "East" and "West." After Ankara, diplomatic and trade relations between Turkey and Europe flourished as Turkey began to move further away from a close alliance with its other Western ally, the United States.

In 1970, an additional protocol establishing a 22-year transitional period to result in the conclusion of a customs union further solidified the drive for membership ignited by the Ankara Agreement. Trade between Turkey and Europe grew at this time as Turkey continued the process of rapid industrialization on which it had embarked in the 1950s. As it became evident that Turkey's economy was quickly strengthening, the EC approached Turkey in 1975 and solicited its application following Greece's application the same year. Distracted by a fragile political coalition and internal political strife, Ecevit rejected the offer. This move was characteristic of Turkey's problems throughout the 1970s as the country began to lose its Western trajectory. Haunted by identity crises and long-repressed political differences, Turkey began to lose its firm sense of direction and instead became dominated by the various pushes and pulls of the factional politics that had emerged in its still relatively new experiment with multi-party democracy.

The ultimate blow to Turkey's aspirations to join Europe came in 1980 with the violent political coup from which it is still very much recovering. Struggling with an intense set of domestic circumstances, Turkey's attention to EU relations had gone by the wayside in the 1970s, but 1980 made Europe an almost non-issue. However, still attentive to Turkey, Europe issued sharp criticism of the military dictatorship of Kenan Evren who seized control after the coup and joined human rights activists in protesting the state's abuses of political and human rights norms. This criticism is significant in that it marks European politicians' new interest in promoting political norms that had become deeply entrenched in European policy by the time of the coup. Europe-Turkey relations were further complicated by Greece's membership in 1981. Following Turkey's military invasion of Cyprus in 1974, diplomatic relations between the two countries became particularly hostile. Greece used its EC membership to block EC development monies from making their way to Turkey and consistently opposed associations that might bring Europe and Turkey closer together. Further, already disgruntled by the coup and seeming Turkish recalcitrance toward any agreement that might solve the division of the island's Greek and Turkish communities, the Greeks' arguments fell on ready ears.

Although Turkey largely ignored criticism during the dictatorship, Europe soon became more relevant during its post-coup recovery as the democratically-elected government began again to assert its dominance under the leadership of Turgut Özal. When Özal applied for membership in 1987, the European Community issued an answer in 1989 that though stating Turkey was not ready for membership at the immediate moment, it might well be in the future. The answer contrasted sharply to that issued in response to Morocco's 1987 application, which the Community flatly rejected on the grounds that Morocco was not a European country. By implication, the EC recognized that, yes, after all, Turkey was part of Europe and thereby reaffirmed the earlier promise it made under Article 28 of the Ankara Agreement.

To prove the government was serious about membership in the EC, Özal led Turkey to assent to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The move was a watershed in that it allowed Turkish citizens to take human rights complaints to the ECHR and required the Turkish state to provide remedies in line with the ECHR's judgements. Although the Court's decisions are still not fully enforcable, Turkey's increased participation in the ECHR is a positive development in the protection of human rights. In 2004, Turkey recognized remedies handed down by the ECHR, and in another positive development in March 2002, the Constitutional Court recognized ECHR case law as a legitimate source on which Turkish courts could base their decisions. At the end of 2007, Turkey had more than 9,000 cases pending before the ECHR.

Özal also moved to increase Turkey's participation in UN, NATO, and European security policy. From 1988 onward, Turkish military officers participated in UN peacekeeping missions in places as varied as East Timor, Somalia, and the West Bank. Most notable of these peacekeeping missions was Turkey's role in Bosnia in 1992. Current peacekeeping missions include the large role Turkey plays in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and a lead role in Kosovo. Turkey's contribution to security missions has proved it to have much in common with the EU's evolving Common Foreign and Security Policy. Turkey gained particular respect in Europe when it denied the United States use of its borders to stage a military invasion of Iraq in 2003. Although injuring relations with the United States, the move was valuable in garnering additional European support insomuch as it evidenced that Turkey was not merely a satellite of United States security policy and had a voice of its own—perhaps most importantly, a voice with which most Europeans agreed.

Despite Özal's positive steps and Turkey returning its attention to securing the customs union it had been promised in the 1970s, relations with Europe were once again complicated as PKK-provoked unrest in the southeast increased. PKK violence led to a strong Turkish military response that at times was quite disproportionate and sometimes targeted Kurdish civilians rather than the PKK terrorists. As a result, Europe became quite disconcerted by the numerous human rights abuses being documented by human rights watch groups and this anxiety prompted considerable reluctance on the part of many European politicians to make closer ties with Turkey. This sentiment was most evident in the human rights-conscious European Parliament, which, especially post-Maastricht, soon began a new series of criticisms regarding the Turkish state's harsh tactics. The state was further rebuked in Europe for documented cases of torture, detention, and wrongful death suffered by Kurdish civilians at the hands of military and police personnel, as well as the particularly egregious abuses conducted by the paramilitary gangs with which the state had begun to work following Özal's death. The breakdown of Turkish government in the southeast was further manifest in the state's persecution of Kurdish political parties, which, of course, only deepened support for the PKK and the cause of Kurdish separatism, while rendering it virtually impossible for moderate Kurdish politicans to emerge (see Feb. 4 post).

Despite all the criticism, and over strong objections from some EU parliamentarians, the Customs Union was signed and came into force in Janaury 1996. Not to dismiss the level of concern about the deteriorating situation in the southeast, European monitors were sent to evaluate human rights practices in acquiescence to the parliamentarians' human rights objections to the Union. To further demonstrate the friction in Europe-Turkey relations caused by the war in the southeast, in October of the same year, the EU blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in development assistance. European interference in the state's war against the PKK-led insurgency led to hard feelings that reached their apex at the Luxembourg summit in December 1997.

At Luxembourg, the European Council agreed to commence accession talks with eleven central and eastern European countries, most infuriatingly Cyprus, while Turkey was recognized as no more than eligible for membership. To add to Turkey's furor, the acceding states were also given accession agreements whereby they would receive funds and other means of support to bolster their eventual convergence with the EU. Turkish politicians read the summit as an affront and responded by cutting off diplomatic relations with Europe. The rhetoric that encompassed the affair was even more damaging as Turkish nationalist politicians began to make claims that Europe had neo-imperial designs on Turkey and went so far as to launch personal insults at European politicians.

However, hope was restored as the political climate in Europe changed. Following Luxembourg, a confluence of factors began to emerge that bolstered the prospects of Turkish candidacy. Among these factors is the victory of Gerard Schröder over the Christian Democrats in Germany and the strong opinion of Tony Blair that Luxembourg had been a mistake. Perhaps most pivotally, Greece's attitude toward Turkish membership had also changed. Committed to a rapprochement of Greek-Turkish relations. Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis saw Turkey's membership bid as a means to assert increased leverage over Turkey in regard to Cyprus. Following the 1999 earthquakes in İzmit and Athens, after which Greeks and Turks came to each others' mutual aid, Greek and Turkish nationalist fervor dwindled as both populations began to express antipathy toward the slow reactions of their governments. Combined with Greek disillusion with nationalist hardliners when Greeks discovered their country had been secretly protecting PKK leader Abdullah Öclan, Greece fell in line with Simitis' calls for rapprochement with Turkey, the main thrust of which was support for Turkish membership in the EU. Bülent Ecevit's role should also be credited insomuch as he made significant gestures to Schröder that Turkey was ready to begin relations with Europe anew.

At Helsinki in December 1999, Turkey was officially granted candidate status on the condition that it met the Copenhagen criteria for membership, the same criteria every EU candidate had to meet. Although some Turkish politicians argued that Turkey should be granted special exceptions due to its circumstances, most enthusiastically embraced the offer. The Helsinki gesture changed the dynamic of EU-Turkish relations and raised prospects that the dream of EU membership might become a reality. The mood was euphoric as polls charting favorable attitudes toward Europe skyrocketed. Out of all the posturing that had come before, a new consensus emerged that Turkey should begin to consider EU negotiations anew. However, despite Turkish ebullience, enthusiasm was somewhat short-sighted in that Turks again began to debate just how far Turkey should be made to reform in order to come into compliance with the Copenhagen political and economic criteria.


The promise of EU accession acted as a catalysis for the reform that Turkey witnessed from 2001 up until accession talks began in 2005. The progressive spirit that was attached to these years can be attributed as driven by relations between Turkey and the European Union. For Turkey, what has been referred to as the reform revolution meant the beginning of a transformation that promised to move Turkey away from the closeted authoritarianism, under the auspices of which the country has long been troubled. What is more, for the first time there was a viable coalition of forces at play, an amalgam of reformers who had finally come together to make way for real and meaningul change. For Europe, Turkey's transformation signaled a demonstrable use of its soft power to further democratize a neighboring country.

The reforms in need of adoption in order to meet the Copenhagen political criteria were outlined in the Accession Partnership Document (APD) the EU gave Turkey in November 2000. Areas in need of reform included, among other things, a re-working of Turkey's civil and penal codes; measures to provide for the equal treatment of men and women; the abolition of the death penalty, meaning assent to Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights; an end to the state practice of torture and reform related to detainees and prisoners; the expansion of cultural rights, especially in regard to Kurds; greater protections for freedom of expression and the press; an expansion of freedom for associations; and the curtailment of military power, in particular an institutional re-working of the National Security Council (NSC).

Reform did not start at rapid pace. In response to the APD, the Turkish government was required to submit its National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA). This is the basic negotiating framework of the accession partnership. Although drafting of the NPAA had not been difficult for other candidate states, the Turkish NPAA proved especially challenging given Turkey's deep political divides and as a result it was not submitted to the EU until March 2001. Further, the NPAA was not reassuring to EU policymakers in that it failed to mention endeavors the government planned to take regarding abolition of Protocol 6, rights to broadcast in Kurdish, and the curtailment of military influence. Instead, it aggressively asserted that Turkey would consider lifting the death penalty in the medium term and that Turkish was the country's official mother tongue. However, with time, a consensus started to shape that resulted in the first large-scale reform package Turkey had passed since the 1980 coup. In October 2001, 33 articles of the Turkish constitution were amended, including its preamble. The opening of Turkey's constitution that once began with a prohibition of "thoughts and opinions" that ran contrary to the national interest was reformed to cover only "actions." Additionally, amendments were reformed to expand privacy, provide for better trials, declare the equality between men and women in marraige, grant new rights to prisoners and detainees, and allow for use of the Kurdish language outside the home. In November, the Civil Code was re-worked to provide new rights for associations, expanded rights of women in marraige, and provided a framework for children's rights.

These reforms were applauded by the European Commission's 2001 progress report and were followed up in 2002 by three reform packages to be passed in February, March, and August. The August 2002 package was the most impressive and included an allowance for broadcasting and education in languages other than Turkish, required that courts issue re-trials in accordance with judgements issued by the ECHR, granted more rights to non-Muslim minorities, more closely regulated police, and initiated piecemeal reform of its judicial and prison systems. Most surprisingly, the death penalty was aboloshed in peacetime. The elimination of the death penalty was quite controversial given that PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had been sentenced to death in 1999 and that the only impediment to his execution was a stay that had been issued by the ECHR that Ecevit had respected in light of EU negotiations. Also significant in 2002, Turkey lifted emergency rule in the last two southeastern provinces. Emergency rule had put the largely Kurdish population of provinces in the southeast under a different rule of law and had been largely criticized by EU politicians prior to Helsinki. At the 2002 summit in Copenhagen, the European Council granted Turkey pre-accession assistance funds and finally set a date for accession talks, agreeing that talks would begin in December 2004 upon recommendation of the European Commission.

Although reform had somewhat slowed down in 2002 as a result of MHP's defiance, efforts gained momentum when AKP came to power in November. Campaigning on a pro-EU agenda, AKP secured over a 2/3 majority in the TBMM that allowed it to overcome President Sezer's veto. Reform in 2003 came in four packages passed in January, February, July, and August and was largely geared to curtail torture, improve prison conditions, grant more cultural rights to Kurds, and lift some restrictions on freedom of expression. Important among these reforms was the adoption of a zero tolerance policy toward torture (although far from implemented), and a monumental reform designed to dramatically redefine the powers of the NSC as an advisory body to the government. By the end of 2003, Turkey had far surpassed the meager promises it made in its initial NPAA. An important mark of the change was also reflected in that the new EU-issued APD of March 2003 was met with much less resistance and the July 2003 NPAA response was quite well-received, and much more in harmony with EU demands than the March 2001 NPAA. The tone of the EU Commission's 2002 progress report, documenting developments up to Sept. 30, 2003, was quite positive and cited the progress that had been made in dealing with many of Turkey's political problems as substantial in light of their sensitivity.

Reforms continued unabated in 2004 as the second national program was enacted. Significantly, one of the key priorities of the second NPAA was a wholesale revision of the Penal Code. The adoption of the new Penal Code was a particular success in that it was passed with the input of various women's groups. AKP's first draft was found too patriarchal for many women and their demands led the government to re-draft the legislation, which, in turn, resulted in a Penal Code that met with the agreement of a coalition of AKP and Kemalist politicians (see July 9 post and ). Reform also included ratification of Protocols 6 and 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey's assent to which meant it would not apply the death penalty in war or peacetime.

Additionally, although plenty of restrictive laws remained on the books that limited participation in civil society and freedom of expression, the International Crisis Group's 2007 report noted that
"EU figures show a steady decline between 2001 and 2006 in associations or centres closed down (from 145 to six), such places raided by police (216 to 48), publications seized or banned (341 to 21) and freedom of expression cases (3,473 put on trial to 1,013). The courts still treated prosecuted torturers lightly but more governmental and media attention seemed to produce better security force behaviour."
The culmination of less than three years of reform led to a momentous decision by the European Commission in October 2004 to endorse accession talks, thereby concluding that Turkey had sufficiently met the Copenhagen political criteria. However, the Commission's recommendation also warned that accession talks could be suspended in the event of persistent violation of the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Come the European Council summit in December, Turkey was finally given a date on which it would begin accession talks in line with the European Commission's recommendation—3 October 2005.

Worthy of note is the EU's critical role in implementing reform. Although implementation of much of the reform has in some ways been lacking, continued EU monitoring and diplomatic pressure has had an important effect. Most significant in this regard are the reforms passed in regard to Kurdish "cultural rights," reforms that are expanding the space in which Kurds can hold educational courses in their own language, give their children Kurdish names, and hold cultural events such as concerts and other public gatherings. Oftentimes, local police and courts act in contradiction with the new law, but when challenged in higher courts, they are overruled and ordered to enforce the new law. Such examples demonstrate that EU support and monitoring on the implementation end is critical, as is committed support from Ankara to ensure that local authorities enforce new and unpopular law. They also demonstrate that thanks to EU backing and support, Turkish authorities are empowered to force implementation over the resistance of what is often very significant opposition (see June 14 post, "Kurds Don't Have Tails: Why I Went to Diyarbakır") .

Click here for Part II.

Friday, September 12, 2008

GMF's TransAtlantic Trends Survey Released

GMF has released its TransAtlantic Trends survey. From TDZ:
A majority of Europeans and Americans believes Turkey is likely to join the European Union, contrary to the Turks, who have less faith that their country's bid will ever succeed, a poll published Wednesday has shown.

The annual Transatlantic Trends survey, conducted in June in 12 European countries, including Turkey, and the United States, showed 42 percent of Turks saw EU membership as a good thing, but only 26 percent thought it likely that Turkey would join the bloc. This was contrary to the results in Europe and the United States, where 60 percent and 48 percent of the respondents, respectively, thought it likely that Turkey would join the EU.

Forty-five percent of the Europeans polled saw Turkey's accession neither as a good thing nor a bad thing, and in the United States, a staunch supporter of Turkey's EU bid, public support for Turkey's membership declined 8 percentage points to 32 percent compared to last year, according to the poll.

Turkey is a NATO member and aspires to become a member of the European Union. But its EU bid is facing obstacles over the unresolved issue of Cyprus and European criticism over a slowdown in Ankara's reform pace.

Observers have expressed concerns in recent years that Turkey might be turning away from the West after tensions in relations with the United States over the war in Iraq and US inactivity in regard to Turkish requests to deal with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which operates from bases in northern Iraq, as well as tensions in its relations with the EU. In the past year, Turkish-US relations improved at the official level, with the US administration's designation of the PKK as a "common enemy" and support for Turkish military strikes against the terrorist group's targets in northern Iraq.

The survey showed that in the past year, Turkish feelings warmed slightly toward the European Union by seven degrees to 33 and toward the United States by three degrees to 14, halting a trend of cooling toward both since 2004.

But despite the improvement in feelings, a majority of Turks and Europeans agree that Turkey is not really part of the West and Turks say Turkey should act alone on international matters, the poll also showed.

Fifty-five percent of Turkish respondents and 57 percent of Europeans are of the opinion that Turkey has such different values that it is not a Western country. The poll showed that Germans (76 percent), French (68 percent) and Italians (61 percent) agreed the most that Turkey was not part of the West. Americans, on the other hand, did not share this view, with the largest percentage of the respondents (41 percent) saying that Turkey has enough common values with the West to be considered Western.

A small minority of Turks, 3 percent, said Turkey should act together with the United States on international matters. The largest percentage of Turks (48 percent) said Turkey should act alone, compared with 20 percent who felt it should act with the countries of the European Union and 11 percent who felt it should act with the countries of the Middle East. Only 1 percent supported Turkey acting together with Russia.

The poll also revealed that the Turkish respondents continued to have the most critical views of US and EU leadership in world affairs. Only 8 percent of respondents viewed US leadership as "desirable," and 22 percent viewed EU leadership as "desirable." Only 8 percent of the respondents viewed President George W. Bush's handling of international affairs favorably, although the percentage who viewed him unfavorably declined 12 percentage points to 71 percent compared to last year. Turkey also had the lowest percentage (38 percent) of respondents who saw NATO as essential, although this was an increase of three percentage points over last year and halted a declining trend since 2004.

In another finding, the poll revealed that a large majority (70 percent) of Turks are opposed to the country's ban on women wearing the Muslim headscarf in universities.
For the full survey results, click here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Coming to Terms with Torture (Or Not)

Despite the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy AKP had declared to come into accord with the EU's Copenhagen Criteria, torture appears to be on the rise.

From BIA-Net:
Minister of Justice Mehmet Ali Şahin claimed that in Turkey, 4719 individuals, among whom 471 children, had faced “torture”, “excessive torture” and “excessive violence” just in 2006 and 2007.

Replying to the motion of question by Batman deputy Ayla Akad Ata for the Democratic Society Party (DTP), Şahin gave information about the investigation and prosecution statistics for the security and gendarmerie officials in accordance with articles of 94, 95 and 256 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) that regulate the excessive torture and use of disproportionate force by the public officials.

According to the information supplied, 3866 cases were filed, 9716 police officers, 616 gendarmerie officials and 554 other type of officials were accused. Adding the 796 files taken over from 2005, 2654 cases with 6397 officials resulted in “no need for prosecution” verdict. On the other hand, 1423 suspects in 614 investigations ended up facing criminal charges.

There were many applications to the human rights organizations for torture in 2007: to the Human Rights Association (İHD) 687, to the Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed People (MAZLUMDER) 163, to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) 452. There were 67 applications to MAZLUMDER and 112 to TİHV in the first five months of 2008.

Tolerance to torture in “open space”…

While these numbers contradict the “Zero Tolerance to Torture” motto of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the fact that the numbers given by Minister Şahin are much higher shows that there is actually no zero tolerance at all. This confirms the arguments by the human rights defenders and organizations that torture still goes unpunished. On the other hand, Şahin does not talk at all about the “deaths under custody” and “torture in open space”.

In 2007, there were 2 deaths under custody according to the records of the MAZLUMDER and 6 according to the TİHV.

According to the TİHV report, 54 people applying to the treatment centers stated that they had been tortured either out on the street or in open space, in a house or a vehicle, or in some other place. İHD’s 2006 records state that the number for “Torture and Bad Treatment in Places Other Than the Official Custody Places” was 261.

Moreover, why is the information about the identity of the officials who are punished and the type of the punishment they received not made public immediately?
As this BIA-Net report goes onto further note, Turkey has not ratified the UN’s Optional Protocol Against Torture nor the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (see Aug 24 post). In addition to more law regulating torture, many human rights activists are advocating for a multi-pronged approach to the problem. From Today's Zaman:
Hüsnü Öndül, the chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), told Today's Zaman that he believes the number of people subjected to torture in 2006 and 2007 is much higher than the number provided by the Justice Ministry.

"The Justice Ministry figures just cover the number of individuals who applied to judicial bodies complaining they were subjected to torture. However there are many others who don't apply to judicial bodies out of fear that they may be punished for a second time. For this reason, we estimate that the number of people subjected to torture is at least three or four times larger than the figures stated by the ministry," he said.

Öndül stressed that the government's zero tolerance policy on torture and maltreatment ended in a fiasco, adding that the declared policy cannot be considered effective until real steps are taken to address the persisting issue of failure to punish officials who violate the policy on torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Öndül categorized the needed measures to eliminate torture at the hands of security officials into four groups: judicial, legal, administrative and educational measures.

"Torture doesn't distinguish between women, men, the elderly or children. Those who are implicated in burglary and theft and whose ideological affiliations are not appreciated by security officials are subjected to torture the most. What we should do for an effective fight against torture is to change the people's point of view toward it," he said.
Activists such as Öndul are concerned with widespread public support for torture in Turkey, which is even higher than it is in the United States (see my June 26 post). In terms of its EU bid, it is critical that Turkey eradicate this toleration of torture, especially when continued evidence of torture continues to makes its way to the European Court of Human Rights and into the reports of numerous human rights monitoring groups.

The government statistics, which are indeed likely under-counted, evidence a rise in torture that is consistent with monitoring reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The HRW report chronicles only 2007 abuses. The number in recent months has by most accounts increased. Click here for a statement made earlier this month by İstanbul's Human Rights Association (İHD).

One last and important note about the use of torture in Turkey pertains to the concern about "open torture," or rather, torture usually conducted in open spaces before the detainee is taken into custody. As Amnesty International noted in its report released in May, there is considerable concern that the zero-tolerance policy against torture is leading many officials to torture detainees before formally entering their custody. This was the case with 15-year old Cüneyt Ertuş (see April 12 post). Ertuş' arm was broken in front of television cameras during the governments' harsh crackdown on Newroz celebrations last March. Chilling footage of the child's dangling arm played not just on PKK-sponsored television stations like Roj, but also made its way into mainstream European media and prompted continued reports of concern for the child's welfare from groups like Amnesty International.