‘Thank God we are not a member of the EU’ by İhsan İkizer*

November 28, 2011, Monday/ 16:43:00

These words belong to Turkey’s leading industrialist, Rahmi Koç. In an interview with Newsweek, Mr. Koç used these words to emphasize Turkey’s good economic situation in the face of the turmoil in the eurozone.

No one in Turkey at the beginning of 2000 would probably believe that a pro-EU Turkish businessman would utter such words. But, perhaps we should remember a famous line, first used in 2002 and often repeated, from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said, “If the EU tries to block the accession of Turkey, we will rename the Copenhagen Political Criteria the Ankara Political Criteria and the Maastrict Economic Criteria the İstanbul Economic Criteria.”

From the beginning, when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, it was certain that this conservative democratic party was giving more emphasis to the process of accession rather than the final accession. As is the case in many “newly democratizing countries,” Turkey had very powerful “veto players,” such as the bureaucracy, especially in the military and judiciary, certain academic circles and a great portion of the media.

In a very diplomatic and smart way, the AK Party managed to instrumentalize the EU conditionality with the purpose of increasing the level of democracy in Turkey. There was great parallelism between what the EU imposed on Turkey and what the AK Party desired to do. Just to give an example, would it be possible to hold meetings of the National Security Council (MGK) once every two months instead of monthly and equalize the number of civilian and military participants without the external effect of the EU? It is not difficult to estimate the scope of possible resistance the AK Party would face from the “traditional veto players” in Turkey. In fact, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the military bureaucracy in Turkey did not hide their anti-EU position, although this conditionality was prepared by Europe, which was taken as the great role model by the powerful Turkish elites for more than a century. The established order in Turkey was well aware of the fact that this democratization process would bring Turkey closer to Europe in terms of democratic levels and human rights. But, interestingly, these “modern people” have always preferred that Turkey be culturally European, but not politically.

Turkey took great steps in the way of democratization. Reform packages started to be defined as “miracles” by the European Commission. However, Turkey’s accession to the EU started to be blocked after 2005. By the decision of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council on Dec. 11, 2006, and the EU Council of Heads of State and Government on Dec. 14, 2006, Turkey’s fulfillment of commitments under the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement has become a benchmark for the opening of negotiations on eight chapters. It has also become a benchmark for the provisional closure of all chapters. Turkey’s reaction to the suspension of eight chapters indicated that, for Turkey, democratization was a more important target than EU membership.

Then Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül reacted as follows: “We want to make sure that Turkey will become more and more democratic and meet all the criteria that have been set by the EU.” On the other hand, Prime Minister Erdoğan accused the EU of not having a vision for the future and not calculating the benefits of Turkey’s membership. He also added that Turkey would continue its reform process. In the following years, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel stood at the entrance to the EU Club, as two powerful bodyguards, taking an oath not to allow this “young Asian Muslim” into the club.

Under normal conditions, the EU’s conditionality is expected to function in a way in which the EU asks the relevant country to conform to certain standards and criteria in return for an incentive. However, we see that Turkey has started to not concentrate on the incentive and “extraordinary” conditions. The AK Party does not use EU conditionality as an external supporter for the democratization process in Turkey. We have seen that the Copenhagen Criteria have been changed to the “Ankara Criteria,” with the Sept. 12, 2010, referendum on the constitutional reform. The EU is no longer an external coalition supporter of the AK Party in its struggle against the “veto players” in Turkey. However, not only the AK Party, but each and every citizen of Turkey who is pleased with the ongoing democratization in Turkey should thank the EU for the political conditionality that it imposed on Turkey, which helped the AK Party elevate Turkey’s democratic standards.

To return to why Mr. Koç thanked God, France and Germany have already started to talk about the future of the eurozone and they are willing to eradicate some weak circles from it. In Europe, though difficult to believe, the time of technocracy started in Greece, the heart of democracy, and in Italy due to financial crises. Many EU members do not conform to the basic Maastricht criteria of the public debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio, set at 60 percent, and the average of the eurozone, consisting of 17 EU members, has already reached 90 percent. As of October 2011, this ratio is 38 percent for Turkey.

Do you also not think that Turkey has already changed the Maastricht Economic Criteria to the İstanbul Economic Criteria, and do you not agree with Mr. Koç?


*İhsan İkizer is a PhD candidate working for the Center for Sociological Research at KU Leuven University. [email protected]