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Turkey’s Long Road

December 13, 2012 - Halil Senturk - Bez kategorii



A review of Turkey and Europe: Challenges and Opportunities. Edited By: Adam Szymanski. Publisher: The Polish Institute of International Affairs, Warsaw, 2012.

Turkey, geographically, politically and culturally, is a complicated country that has a number of problems including the Kurdish issue, the rise of political Islam, democratisation, economy, civil-military relations and disputes with neighbouring countries. In addition, relations between the European Union and Turkey contain numerous controversial issues such as Cyprus, religion, democracy, economy and Turkish foreign policy. Conversely, due to its strategic location and cultural heritage, Turkey can provide many advantages to the members of the EU in terms of economy and energy.

As a result of this dilemma, understanding EU-Turkey relations can become problematic for students in the area of International Relations and Political Science. Turkey and Europe: Challenges and Opportunities, makes a significant contribution to this ongoing debate by inquiring into challenges including the Kurdish issue, economy, religion and the Cyprus problem, as well as the economic, security and energy opportunities. Written by Polish specialists on Turkey at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), the book also offers readers a comprehensive look at the politics, democracy, foreign relations, and history of Turkey. Additionally, throughout the book, the authors make very cogent use of charts to illustrate data and condense their arguments. That is not to say that the text of the book is a bit complicated. In contrast, the book gets its message across very clearly, reads very easily, and thus can be a very helpful source for wider audiences than academia.

Turkey and Europe: Challenges and Opportunities is composed of two parts; as well as an introduction and a conclusion section. In the introduction, Adam Szymanski discusses the key problems of Turkey on its road to the EU, and the opportunities offered by Turkish membership for the EU’s foreign policy. According to Szymanski, although Turkey adopted numerous economic and political reforms in the period between 2001 and 2005 in order to fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria, the Cyprus issue, Turkey's domestic problems and an anti-Turkish campaign led by France, Austria and Germany has slowed down the accession process of Turkey after 2006.

The first two chapters of the first part primarily analyse democracy in Turkey through the Kurdish issue and the banning of political parties. Joanna Bocheńska does not only focus on how minority rights in Turkey are problematic for the EU, but also analyses the historical background and recent developments about the Kurdish issue through the “deep state”, Turkish army, “Kemalism” and (lack of) constitutional provisions on Kurdish politics and culture. The following chapter mainly examines the economy of Turkey, which, according to the author, is potentially significant for the EU. However, the author also claims that the “Turkish economy is still capital-intensive and underdeveloped technologically” and “the process of meeting the Copenhagen economic criteria has not been fully completed”.

In the following chapter, Szymanski analyses “religion” as an unofficial condition for EU membership. Based on discourses of right wing parties about Islam, immigration and racism, he argues that not only radical right wing political parties, but also centre-right politicians including Sarkozy and Merkel, have always used anti-Turkish rhetoric to strength their power.

The last two chapters of the first part focus on the most difficult political problem between the EU and Turkey: Cyprus. On the one hand, “Turkish Cypriots” is one of the most sensitive issues for the Turkish people. On the other hand, Cyprus represented by “Greek Cypriots” is a member country that can easily block the membership process of Turkey. Based on this argument, these chapters mainly analyse how the Cyprus issue has affected the EU-Turkey relations since 2004.

The next part primarily examines Turkey’s foreign policy in the Caucasus, Middle East, western Balkans and Central Asia as well as the importance of energy for the EU. This part provides a framework of the Turkish foreign policy before the period of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and explains how the AKP has changed the Turkish Foreign Policy landscape. The new foreign policy principles of the AKP are based on the “strategic depth doctrine” primarily aimed at establishing good relations with neighbours, an active foreign policy, resolution of disputes in the region and becoming a role model for countries in the region. These principles are compatible with the purposes of external relations of the EU in establishing security and peace in the region, as Turkey has tried to become a transit corridor in its territory for oil and gas. Therefore, as explained in detail in this part, Turkey can provide the EU with a way of becoming significantly less dependent on Russian energy.

As explained in the chapters that analyse Turkey’s relations with Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia, and the western Balkans, Turkey aims to improve regional security and peace in the region, which are also compatible with the European Neighbourhood Policy. Based on the strategic depth doctrine, Turkey has attempted to solve disputes not only with Armenia, Syria and Greece but also in conflicts between Israel-Palestine, Syria-Israel, Bosnia-Serbia, Georgia-Russia and Iran-United States. The chapters of this part comprehensively analyse these attempts and show how Turkey’s role could be beneficial for the EU in terms of security. Moreover, this part focuses on cultural factors based on Islam, history and ethnicity that make Turkey an important player to use its soft power in the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.

In the concluding chapter, Szymanski argues that the problems between the EU and Turkey are highly complex and there is not a simple way of solving them. In addition, he claims that Turkey’s membership process is not based on the “accept or reject” dilemma, since Turkey is a key country for making the EU a global actor.

Lastly, Szymanski offers four steps for reinforcing EU-Turkey relations. In short, these include defining objectives, priorities and expectations of Turkey and the EU, improving institutional mechanisms, and considering third states in the region. Szymanski, however, notes that Turkey’s problems on its road to EU membership will only be solved in the long-term, since Turkey continues to have several domestic and external problems.

The weaknesses of the study remain trivial. One weakness stems from the fact that almost each chapter of the second part repetitively explains the foreign policy principles of the AKP. Secondly, although Szymanski and other authors make some critiques on the AKP, they take the AKP as the most European centric party in Turkey. However, after 2010 when a constitutional referendum took place, the AKP, based on Islamic movements, started to take some steps to weaken the secularism in Turkey. Such actions as introducing religious courses in schools, allowing headscarves in state organisations and increasing the budget of religious institutions in Turkey can be cited in this case. In addition, the AKP stopped the democratisation process of Turkey, because, as many scholars and journalists in Turkey argue, it took control over the military institutions, which had been the most powerful rival of the AKP until 2010.

Democracy is still problematic in Turkey, as over hundreds of journalists, over thousands of Kurdish politicians and many Kemalist politicians still remain in prison. Therefore, when considering the problems of the EU membership process of Turkey, the AKP should be analysed as a crucial factor that slows down the relations between the EU and Turkey.

Halil Senturk – Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey.

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