From the Myth of European Union Accession to Disillusion: Implications for Religious and Ethnic Politicization in Turkey

By Gökalp, Deniz; Ünsar, Seda | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

From the Myth of European Union Accession to Disillusion: Implications for Religious and Ethnic Politicization in Turkey


Gökalp, Deniz, Ünsar, Seda, The Middle East Journal


At the present time, there are no clear outcomes in Turkey's European Union (EU) accession process. By the end of the two years following the rise of the pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the government in 2002, Turkey's accession process entered into a stalemate. Potent political opposition to the Turkish candidacy in Europe has escalated, despite a staunch Turkish political commitment since 1999 to meet the Copenhagen Criteria for admission. In this article, we argue that Turkey's EU accession process has contributed to opening political spaces for Islamism and ethno-nationalism in the country, ironically producing societal and political forces undermining Turkish membership. We inquire first into the practical reasons obstructing Turkey's membership to the Union and second into the societal and political implications of the continuation of the bleak possibility of EU membership for Turkey. As far as the latter is considered, our focus is limited to an analysis of the politicization and institutionalization of the ethnic and Islamist conservative politics in Turkey within the process of "liberal democracy."

By the end of the two years following the rise of the pro-Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the Turkish government in 2002, Turkey's European Union accession process had entered into a stalemate. Paradoxically, the Islamists, who had broken away from the traditionally Islamist oriented Virtue Party (FP) and founded the AKP, became the self-proclaimed "conservative democrats" of Turkey and fervent supporters of EU membership. The reason for this enthusiasm was strategic and two-fold: On the one hand, the AKP pragmatically drew upon the discourses of human rights and democracy, which constituted the main premises of the EU accession requirements, against the secular state establishment for a political opening to legitimately maneuver in. On the other, the party used its successfully constructed pro-EU liberal face to gather support from different sectors of the society, crosscutting class and ideological divisions. Hence, it garnered support among provincial capitalists, small bourgeoisie, urbanized and rural poor, liberal "left" intelligentsia, as well as the high society of the business world, and emerged as the new center-right political party - analogous to what the Motherland Party (ANAP) and the True Path Party (DYP) had previously been. Nevertheless, while the AKP's "liberal" policies remained mainly in terms of extensive privatization of the public sector and a commitment to an IMF-led marketization, it failed to pass the test on issues such as freedom of expression, representation, transparency, accountability, and social equity ..However,theseshortcomingshave,by. byHowever, these shortcomings have, by and large, been ignored by a majority of the press and intelligentsia that faced one form or another of pressure, and/or collaborated out of mutual interest.

Undeniably, Turkey's EU candidacy has been diplomatically troubling for the EU since the official negotiations began in December 2004. Political opposition to the Turkish candidacy in Europe has escalated, despite a staunch political commitment by Turkey to meet the Copenhagen Criteria. 1 Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed the attitude shared by many European leaders when she recently expressed doubts about the viability of Turkish membership in the EU. 2 French President Nicolas Sarkozy is another ardent opponent of Turkey's accession. The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, also declared that any EU enlargement after the membership of Bulgaria and Romania would need to wait until all constitutional and structural issues within the EU had been worked out. 3 It is not surprising then that the EU suspended talks with Turkey in December 2006 on eight policy chapters - among them, the conflict between Turkey and the Greek-majority government of Cyprus. 4

In Turkey, the pro-PKK (Partiya Karkeren-I Kurdistan, Kurdistan Workers Party)/ pro-Kurdish groups, including the Democratic People's Party (DEHAP, recently renamed the Democratic Society Party or DTP) are among those that experienced one of the highest levels of frustration with the EU accession process. …

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