Toni Alaranta (The Finnish Institute of International Affairs)
In Turkey, a prevailing opinion holds that the entire 20th century was heavily stigmatized by an uneven fight between the “almighty Kemalist state” and the “powerless society”. On the other hand, there is no doubt that it was the secularization process initiated along with the development of the Kemalist ideology after the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, which established Europeanizing tendencies and led Turkey to the very doorstep of the European Union. The current opinion, stating that Turkey is a European country, is spread primarily thanks to the above-mentioned ideology and not necessarily because of the geographical location or history.
However, if we look at the reverse side of the coin, Kemalism is simultaneously perceived as the greatest obstacle in the historic pursuit to establish a functional liberal democracy in the country. This widespread discourse was generally accepted by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), thanks to which it became one of the most powerful political parties within the coalition. In a simplified way, it could be argued that the political and economic reforms of AKP successfully led to the confirmation of an official EU candidate status in 1999 and the opening of accession talks with the Union just six years later. Now, ten years since the start of the accession talks, only one of the accession chapters has been accomplished. Thus, it is here where the question concerning the AKP-EU relationship arises. More detailed analyses even conclude that Turkey will never be capable of becoming a full-fledged EU Member State.
The prevalent European view, perceiving Turkey as a state with European characteristics, is no longer corresponding with reality. On the contrary, Turkey is diverging from the previously supported process of westernization, which is regarded as the main cause for the degradation of the society. Another intrinsic feature of the current AKP policy is the tendency to go back to Islamist roots, with which the party has always moderately sympathized. In light of Turkish President’s great executive powers and the assumed victory of the AKP in this year’s upcoming elections, it can be anticipated that the Turkish policy will not change its course. Nonetheless, the EU still considers Turkey a strategic partner, with whom it is necessary to cooperate in the field of foreign policy and energy sector. But Turkey should provide a stimulus for the Union to create a new strategic approach vis-à-vis Turkey’s increasingly authoritative form of government and a AKP’s likely hegemony in Turkey’s politics over the next four years. In the end, the Union concerns indicate that we were to rank the current situation in the Middle East and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine according to the significance assigned to its various foreign policy objectives, the efforts to solve the internal situation of Turkey are actually very low on EU’s priority list.
(The study can be downloaded here)