Can EU Act as a Democracy Promoter? Analysing the Democratization Demand and Supply in Turkey-EU Relations

By Üstün, Çiğdem | Romanian Journal of European Affairs, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Can EU Act as a Democracy Promoter? Analysing the Democratization Demand and Supply in Turkey-EU Relations


Üstün, Çiğdem, Romanian Journal of European Affairs


Introduction

Turkey's European Union (EU) membership bid has been seen as an important anchor on its way to becoming a more liberal democracy. Even to start the negotiations to become a member required democratization reforms, amendments to existing regulations and legislation. The membership of Republic of Cyprus to the Union, the negative attitude towards Turkey's membership displayed by some Member States, i.e. France, the destructive impact of the economic crisis on the EU, the lack of will to use conditionality on Turkey, and, last but not least, Turkey's waning interest to become a member of the EU resulted in slowing down these democratization steps.

This paper is inspired by Pevehouse's terminology on international organizations' role in assisting democratization efforts by supplying causal mechanisms. In this case, the EU is the main democracy promoter; through its instruments it is the supplier, while the demanding actor is Turkey. However, it has been observed that on the demand side Turkish government policies and the speeches of the President clearly did not prioritize EU membership. This disengagement reflected on Turkey's democratic reform movements and some of the literature even started to define the regime in Turkey as competitive authoritarianism. (Esen and Gümüşçü 2016) (Özbudun 2015). In 2016, one of the main discussion topics in TurkeyEU relations has been the EU-Turkey Statement on 18 March 2016, a.k.a the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal. An optimistic perspective defends this deal, since it initiated talks between Turkey and the EU; the pessimistic perspective argues that the deal would not take TurkeyEU relations further and would not have a positive impact on Turkey's reforms. The process of negotiations and the deal itself had been criticized internationally (Şenyuva and Üstün 2015), since it disregarded the EU's own principles and it has been a tool for the EU in implementing its short-term policies, lacking any long-term perspective on strengthening ties with Turkey. Thus, neither the negotiations nor the deal highlighted the conditionality principle in EU-Turkey relations. While the supply side lacked serious interest in democracy promotion, one can still observe the will of the opposition parties at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) to work with the EU since it is [still] referred to as the anchor for Turkey's democratization and an exemplary model to promote democracy internationally. This paper, noting the differences between the government's position and the opposition's views, separates the demand side into two. The paper analyses the TGNA minutes between 2011 and 2016. In the 2011 general election, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) won 49.83% of the total votes and got 341 of the seats (out of a total of 550) while Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP) won 25.98% of the votes and 112 of the seats and Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP) got 13.01 % of the votes and 71 seats in the parliament (Gümrük Oyları Dahil Türkiye Geneli Seçim Sonuçları 2011). There were more than 30 independent parliamentarians who won seats in this election. This was AKP's biggest electoral win since 2002. In that year, AKP's share of votes was 34.28% and in the 2007 elections its share was up to 46.58%. The 2011 election gave almost half of the popular support to AKP and 2010 was the last year that the Turkish parliament accepted extensive reform packages in line with the EU membership goal. Thus, the beginning of 2011 to the end of August of 2016, just after the failed coup attempt, is taken as the time frame in analysing opposition parties' speeches in relation with the EU and democratic practices.

The first part of the paper summarizes the literature on the international organizations' role as a democracy promoter. The second part demonstrates the positive impact of the EU on Turkey starting from the Helsinki Summit in 1999, where Turkey's position was elevated to candidacy. Since the relations between Turkey and the EU are not considered to be exemplary, the golden years of Europeanization and democratization in this perspective seem to be forgotten. …

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