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.

1 comment:

Tapline said...

Ragan, Outstanding post. Turkey will do what is best for Turkey. Which is how it should be....They seem to be doing a balancing act and by looking at world events, I think they are doing it right....granted some problems are seemingly being ignored, look at some of the problems being ignored by other European countries in the name of diversity and multiculturalism.....stay well....