EU Enlargement & Turkey’s Accession Process Interview Series III

Interview with Associate Professor Aylin Güney: “Has Turkey Missed the EU Boat?”

ResearchTurkey – – June 27, 2013 –  In order to comprehend the latest turnaround in Turkey-European Union (EU) relations and Turkish Foreign Policy; we, as Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), interviewed Assoc. Prof. Aylin Güney, Head of the Department International Relations at İzmir Yasar University.

Assoc. Prof. Güney is well-known for her political and social analyses on EU Integration Process, Turkey-EU relations, Turkish Foreign Policy, Cyprus Conflict, civil-military relations in Turkey, and Southern Europe. Following her doctorate on “Regionalism as a Failure of National Integration: A Case Study of Italy”, Güney studied for many years at Bilkent University as an instructor. On the abovementioned issues, Güney has many books and articles published in distinguished academic journals. Güney continues to teach courses on EU Integration and Turkey-EU Relations at Yaşar University. Furthermore, she adds significant value to the studies on Turkey-EU conformity through various projects and administrative efforts in Turkey.

‘Accession to EU started to lose its priority as a primary goal.’

Dear Ms. Guney, first of all I would like to thank you on behalf of Analysis Turkey for accepting our interview request. As you very well know, Turkey is a tremendous laboratory, especially for those studying on political science. Fluctuations in domestic and foreign policy, declarations by political leaders, outcomes of social researches and other similar events lead to new debates. Although the hottest issue is Terror and the Kurdish Issue; Turkey-EU relations are in the spotlight once again, especially following the criticisms on EU by the political leaders. Along with the criticisms towards the EU by the politics, especially the Prime Minister; outcomes of a social research by the Turkish-German Foundation for Education and Scientific Research was frequently discussed in the media within the past few months. According to the research, “The ratio of Turkish public opinion that Turkey will become a member of EU in the future has fallen to 17%”. This was interpreted as a serious loss in motivation for EU membership from the perspective of Turkish society and politicians. What is your opinion on this context?

I would like to thank you too for the interview. Lately it has been widely discussed that, among Turkish citizens, skepticism against Europe has soared and the public opinion seriously deviated from the EU vision. I observe the issue based on the researches that you mentioned; for I do not personally conduct a research on European skepticism. However, my opinion is that, besides the social analyses; the political willpower has seriously lost its motivation on EU membership.


So, do you believe that accession to EU is not a primary goal anymore?


Yes, accession to EU started to lose its priority as a primary goal; especially since the second phase of the Justice and Development Party. I think this process should be evaluated within the context of a series of causes and outcomes deriving from Europe, Turkey and cyclical events.


As to the reasons stemming from EU, a search for a new identity emerged in EU, before and after the 2004 enlargement. We know that this was a seriously struggling enlargement that led to huge arguments due to its magnitude and characteristics. What are the boundaries of EU, where do they start, where do they end, what is the meaning of being a European? A huge amount of literature was formed on these issues. Therefore, when the discourse on identity came forward; a huge debate arose on the accession of Turkey, which has a majority population of Muslims. In other words, Europeanization of Turkey was evaluated on the discourses of civilization and identity. It is possible to suggest that the discourse on the concepts of civilization, culture and identity primarily stemmed from the 2004 enlargement and the European identity dismay that it created. We witnessed that the discourse was frequently denoted especially by certain political leaders in the Council of EU. Along with the arguments on identity, another reason stemming from EU is directly linked to the institutionalization efforts of the EU. I believe that the relations among EU institutions have utmost importance to grasp the EU’s view of Turkey.

‘EU Council and Commission competing for authority’


I guess that what you mean by “institutionalization” is the formation of EU Constitution and the following process of Lisbon agreement.

Exactly. I do not want to go into too much detail on this subject, so, to summarize briefly; in year 2005, the new draft of EU Constitution was rejected in the referendums in France and Holland; though it was publicly discussed in many EU countries that it would create a more federal EU in the future. Therefore EU walked into an institutional crossroad. In fact, this was an indicator of the power struggle between the two most important bodies of EU. As you know, the Commission is the main driver of EU integration and it is an institution above the nations; it is more technical and bureaucratic. On the other hand, the Council is a political institution where the governments are represented. In my opinion, that is an indicator of underlying conflict between these two institutions. The federalism model, which foresees EU integration to conclude as “United States of America”; is actually a model that the EU Commission deeply desire. The discourse of “Unity in Diversity” was also introduced by the Commission. Therefore, EU Commission is an institution that supports integration and whose interest lies in integration. On the other hand, governments taking place in the Council do not demonstrate the same will. Thus, it is possible to say that, throughout the process of Lisbon agreement, which followed the rejection of the Constitution; there has been a power struggle between the Council and the Commission. The Council desires the model in which relatively larger countries dominate the future of the EU. On the other hand, the Council pursues a more effective and participative EU model.


So you think that, after the Lisbon Agreement; balance of power has shifted within EU?

Yes, the issue on segregation of authority between the Council and the Commission led to new political developments in favor of the Council, after the Lisbon Agreement. I think that the Lisbon process empowered the EU Council, which consists of representatives from the governments of member countries. Due to a strengthening Council, EU enlargement is directly affected by the identity, religion, ethnicity and Europeanism discourses, in which the political leaders exploit to influence their own public opinion. Briefly, we can say that institutional Dynamics have changed within the EU; whereas during the enlargement phase, political and cultural discourses prevailed, instead of technical terms. So we see that EU enlargement is influenced by a populist discourse, which feeds on the integration problems throughout member countries.

Could you be more specific on this issue?

If we look at the countries in which the Lisbon Agreement was rejected in public referendums, such as France and Holland; we see that these countries go through serious integration problems within their own structures. Problems with conformity empower the political leaders and political movements that feed on the discourses of identity and culture. This process led centre-right or center-left parties to dissolve and far-right parties to emerge in the political scene of Europe. European politicians exploit the anti-foreignism emerging in their own political opinion. At the EU level, they make politics over the issues of identity, religion, ethnicity and culture. As to the accession of Turkey, the member counties that I have just mentioned, the ones having trouble with immigration and integration; are the ones that face significant amount of immigrants, especially from Turkey. In this context, the drawbacks regarding Turkey’s full membership derive from the anxiety that member countries suffer from in the process of integration, and the perception of “the other” that is formed due to this anxiety. As you know, International Relations are mostly structured upon perceptions. However, when it comes to Turkey’s membership; there is a serious institutional anxiety beyond perceptions. If Turkey were a member country in the current institutional structure, then it would be the most populated member of the Union and it would be a crucial actor shifting the balance of power in the decision-making mechanism of EU. Frankly speaking, I doubt that the European politicians possess the willpower to digest this situation and explain it to their own society.

“It is not about Turkey; it is all about the direction in which the European Union steers.”


Exactly at this point, maybe we should argue on the future of European integration. As far as I can tell, you suggest that there is a serious confusion in EU not only on Turkey’s membership but also on its own future. What do you think about the future of European integration?


Actually I am a little pessimistic about the future of European integration. I believe that they did not stick to Jean Monnet’s model of EU integration and the process was sabotaged with political discourses. When we look at the process following Turkey’s application for membership in the 60’s; we see that European Economic Community had a positive attitude towards Turkey’s application, and there were no debates on whether a Muslim country could be a member of the EEC back then. Of course the Cold War Dynamics should be taken into consideration for that period as well. In conclusion, the discourse on identity is a new concept, and it is a political matter of fact that will substantially influence the steps that EU will take from now on. It is not about Turkey, it is all about the direction in which the European Union steers.


And there is the fact of economical crisis…


Yes. The Euro crisis and the economic instability of one member country after another lead to serious concerns on the future of EU. After this point on, enlargement will not be among the agenda items of hot debates. Furthermore, economic instability generally leads to strengthening of far-right movements and weakening of socio-politic stability. At this point we see that far-right parties frequently criticize Turkey’s potential membership. All these factors stemming from EU steer in the opposite direction of Turkey.

‘Unless the EU displays positive signals towards Turkey’s full membership; a break-off will be inevitable.’


If we analyze the situation from the perspective of Turkish politics, how should we explain the lack of motivation and willpower that you mentioned?


When analyzing the attitude of the politicians, I think that the process should be evaluated separately for the periods before 2005 and after 2005. 2005 is a milestone, in which a negotiation date was set and dialogue among Turkey and EU institutions flourished, yet, ironically; Turkey lost its enthusiasm for accession to EU. To begin with, Turkish politicians cannot interpret the mixed signals from EU – and they are rightful to do so. On one hand, leaders such as Merkel and Sarkozy defend the privileged partnership model for Turkey and they deliver messages to their own society over Turkey. On the other hand, like in any other candidate country; the negotiation process continues with its ups and downs. In other words, while we are struggling to maintain technical conformity and the EU institutions are cooperating with Turkey; we are receiving signals from EU in the opposite direction. As a natural consequence, Turkish society and politicians have this attitude: “If this process is open-ended and it does not promise a full membership for us; then why should we struggle so hard?” Alienation is taking place. Considering the shifting internal dynamics of the EU, it is possible to conclude that debates on Turkey’s full membership are shaped within the context of this political conflict. In other words, for EU, Turkey’s full membership is not just a technical matter based on the internalization of EU acquis communautaire. Unless the EU displays positive signals towards Turkey’s full membership; a break-off will be inevitable.


In my opinion, another important development affecting this process is the discomfort of the government due to the attitude of EU on the turban issue. Although the European Court of Justice is not a EU institution; Europe’s and EU’s understanding of democracy were questioned doe to the developments such as EU not clearly criticizing ECtHR’s attitude on Leyla Sahin trial, EU not presenting a solid standpoint in the turban issue, and the banning of several religious symbols in France. In my opinion, while JDP government perceived the turban issue from the perspective of basic rights and freedom; Europe and EU perceived turban as a symbol that could be a matter of pressure; and this situation hastened the breakdown. In other words, following the attitude of EU on the turban issue; the Government began to question the role of EU in Turkish politics as an element of democratization.

‘The EU Project always remained elitist. It was not well-presented to the public.’


Exactly at this point, maybe we should discuss the EU strategy of Turkey. In your opinion, is EU a goal or a tool for the politicians?


Both, I think. If a party in political power reaches this goal, then it will enjoy a tremendous success from the public perspective. Of course, at present, European skepticism is on the rise from the public perspective; due to the problems we mentioned earlier. On the other hand, democratic reforms and sectoral gains that will be achieved are undeniable facts. Actually, the EU Project always remained elitist. It was not well-presented to the public.


Do you think that politicians did not inform the public well enough about the gains that a potential EU membership would enable?


Yes. However, we should make it clear that; conformity to EU was and still is exploited as a tool of domestic policy, not only in Turkey but all the candidate countries. To be more specific, our governments are rather interested in the political dimension of the issue than the technical aspects. The EU Project is exploited as a tool for domestic policy, parallel to the ideological inclinations of whichever government is in charge. Each party in political power aims to take advantage of this process. Without doubt, it is really difficult to implement political reforms, discuss aged and undebatable political issues, and win the sympathy of the public all at the same time.  Therefore, it is a natural consequence that EU is exploited as a tool for domestic politics.


When we analyze the politicians’ latest comments and assessments on the EU issue; we see many contradicting statements. For instance, Egemen Bagis says “We will not give up on our EU goal just because of the short-sighted politicians in Europe”[i]; yet in another statement he says “If you behave too coyly, you will love your lover”[ii]. How do you interpret these contradicting statements?


I think the issue should not be taken too personally. Politicians, especially the ones like the Minister of EU; should have a strong maneuvering ability both in domestic and foreign policy. In certain situations, they may see domestic policy as a tool for foreign politics, whereas in other situations, they may see foreign policy as a tool for domestic politics. However, modern politics have such a nature that the distinction between domestic and foreign politics has faded away and they have intertwined.

‘The main problem is approaching the EU conformity issue too emotionally!’


In your opinion, what kinds of errors have been made in the reform process and conformity to EU acquis communautaire?


I think the main problem is approaching the EU conformity issue too emotionally. The reform process is actually pretty technical and sectoral. A complete progress cannot be achieved unless the imposed reforms are internalized and adopted as a part of corporate culture. To begin with, institutions should possess a high level of skills and sectoral proficiency. Each public or private entity should internalize the reforms through supporting bylaws and regulations. Or course that is a very long term process. The crucial point is that, each reform approved in the assembly and each chapter opened during negotiations should be internalized and monitored by the experts, non-governmental organizations, sector representatives and bureaucrats. That is the only way for the EU Project to be more than an elitist Project and democratic controls will be established over the politicians.


Actually the point that you mentioned is frequently noted in EU progress reports. Conceptually, that is the definition of “democratization”, within the context of institutionalization and liberalization. Isn’t it?


Yes of course. Imposed reforms may accelerate the process. However, unless the reforms are pervasive and social foundation is established; there will be no basis for legitimacy. Therefore the reform process is directly related to the communication strategies; whereas the related ministries should influence the public opinion and maintain public participation; in line with the purposes for the establishment of those ministries. The public should grasp the benefits and the consequences, and in what ways certain sectors will be affected. Communication is crucial.

“During the enlargement process in year 2004, EU started negotiations with Turkey and the other applicant countries although they have not fully met the Copenhagen criteria.”


Besides the technical issues that you mentioned, there is also a political aspect. Speaking of internalization; what is your assessment of the criticisms on freedom of thought and speech in Turkey, freedom of press, and other rights and freedoms; which are frequently noted by EU institutions? They state that the processes regarding journalists and academicians under arrest within the context of Ergenekon and KCK trials are becoming increasingly intimidating.


EU made a vital mistake in the enlargement process in 2004. Turkish authorities and related parties will probably criticize me, but I think that EU started negotiations with Turkey and the other applicant countries although they have not fully met the Copenhagen criteria. The enlargement process was too hasty and effective. For Turkey, the year 2005 could not have been postponed further. EU was turned into a matter of fait accompli; with a psychology of being entrapped. Turkey started negotiations as if the political criteria have been met. However, it is not possible to claim that the Copenhagen political criteria have been fully satisfied; neither back than nor as of today. There are several dimensions such as judicial independence, civil-military relations, or the law of political parties. I think that there should have been a much deeper assessment towards Turkey’s conformity to the political criteria; before starting the negotiations. The decision of EU to start negotiations with Turkey and the process that led EU to such a decision should be carefully analyzed.

““Privileged partnership” model for Turkey depends on the idea that Turkey is an indispensable actor due to its location and military power.”


Perhaps at this point we should underline the cyclical events we mentioned earlier. Could the events such as 9/11, Iraq War and NATO presence in Afghanistan have led the European Union to reconsider its Turkey strategy?


Certainly. As frequently cited; geographical location and strategic importance of Turkey has always rendered it an important actor. To tell you the truth; I’m not sure whether it is an advantage or disadvantage for Turkey. Yet that discourse is frequently emphasized both in the context of Cold War and multipolar world order in post-Cold War era. If we observe Turkey’s affairs with the West since its affiliation in NATO; we see that its military and strategic contributions are highlighted. In the post-Cold War era, that discourse gained further significance after 9/11; which led to serious political, military, sociological and economic consequences for USA. In this context, I think that 9/11 resulted in a dramatic turnaround in the national and regional security perception of the West (EU and USA). Therefore the need to reinforce the strategic alliance with Turkey to maintain global and national security came into question once more. Due to its location and military force; the perception that Turkey would be a key country in the Middle East grew stronger. Actually, the “privileged partnership” model for Turkey, which is passionately advocated by European politicians such as Merkel and Sarkozy; is based on the idea that Turkey is an indispensable actor due to its location and military force. I believe that, in light of these incidents; EU reconsidered the role of Turkey and started the negotiations as some sort of compromise. On the other hand, it also acted very cautiously and made a statement that “this process is an open-ended process, which depends on the digestion capacity of EU”. This process could very well be a process that the EU Commission undertook. The reason is that, radical steps such as the rapid enactment of 2002 and 2004 reforms as well as revoking of capital punishment led the progress reports to become positive. However, I feel that the Council and the European politicians were not ready for such advancement. We can comment that, during the period when EU decided to start negotiations with Turkey; EU could not have maintained uniformity and reactions from the Council led to the statements on the digestion capacity of the EU.

‘EU recognizes Turkey as a buffer zone.’


What does Turkey mean for EU considering the latest events in the Middle East; such as the Arab Spring?

Exactly at his point, I’d like to share an issue I find very interesting. During the period that the Arab Spring began to emerge; European politicians and EU institutions mentioned Turkey as a “strategic partner”. That is a Notion frequently cited within the context of Turkey-USA affairs. Therefore, emphasis on Turkey’s strategic importance increased in EU as well. I think EU recognizes Turkey as a buffer zone; considering all these regional events. Turkey is recognized as a democratic regional force with a secular character and liberal economic policies. Despite domestic complications and the turmoil in Middle East, it is recognized as a country that solves its problems through democratic measures. Turkey is the key country for the solution of immigration and refugee problems, following the regional instability and one country drifting to civil war after another. In light of the recent events and the cooperation agreement between EU and Turley to prevent illegal immigration; EU supports the idea that refugee camps are established in Turkey so that the flow of refugees can be contained before reaching the borders of EU. For the European Union, it is a priceless blessing for this issue to be resolved within the Turkish borders, or in other words, Turkey functions as a buffer zone before EU. However, I think that in the long term this situation can turn into a burden for Turkey. In short, I sense a shift from the “Turkey is a bridge between the East and the West” discourse to “Turkey is a buffer zone between the East and the West” discourse.

‘“Real-Political” perspective’

Speaking of immigration; what is your opinion on the free movement of goods and individuals; which is considered a long-lasting problem between EU and Turkey?


Visa is a really serious issue. I think that the steps taken today should have been taken long ago. I think that this is an issue in which the government failed to manage. Taking possession of our rights actually deriving from partnership agreement is presented as if it is a political victory. Looking at the visa issue from the EU perspective; I understand why a seriously troubled geography suffering from legal and illegal immigration creates obstacles for Turkey on free movement. This is a “Real-Political” perspective. On the other hand, there is a newly initiated process. For a candidate country with so many years of dialogue; certain rights should be granted; which are already granted to all the other candidate countries. The steps throughout this process should be consistent and accurate. I actually see this issue as a natural consequence of enlargement syndromes, integration problems and institutional power struggles within the European Union. Another critical issue on integration is the present economical and socio-political regional imbalance in Turkey. For EU, Turkey is an instable country in which there is a dramatic gap between its western and eastern regions. The integration process cannot bear such an imbalance.


Connected with that aspect, there is of course the Kurdish issue and terror problem..


I do not want to go there at all. The Kurdish issue is too complicated to discuss within the context of this interview. However, to briefly mention; approaches by Turkey and EU are completely different. At the core of the nuance lies the fact that we evaluate the issue from a perspective of “national security and fight against terror” whereas EU defines the issue as a “fight of a nation that is not recognized as a minority for years”. In that manner, the Kurdish issue is another problem on the table regarding EU’s perception of Turkey.

“In international relations, the axis shifts wherever the interests are defined to be by the domestic actors leading the foreign policy.”

Lastly, how do you interpret the frequently discussed “shift of axis”; considering the latest events?

I am not sure whether the “shift of axis” is a correct definition. However, if we analyze the period after 2001 and 2005; Turkey started to pursue a multi-dimensional foreign policy, considering the ups and downs in Turkey-EU relations. Turkey wanted to increase diversity, especially in energy and commerce. Actually that is not an inadvisable policy, however, it was interpreted as a “shift of axis”, when considered along with the divergence from the EU perspective. In international relations, the axis shifts wherever the interests are defined to be by the domestic actors leading the foreign policy; that is perfectly normal.  What is important is that the extent to which the shift benefits the country and serves the interests of the country.  Therefore, I feel that Turkey is right to pursue a multi-dimensional policy. It is also nice that Turkey wants to be an effective actor in the region. However diverging from the EU vision will lead to disequilibrium. If Turkey turns its back on Europe, the other countries in the region would not correlate this attitude with the role it seeks to play in the region. Therefore, the way that the intended multi-dimensional foreign policy was presented resembled Neo-Ottomanism. It was wrong, and it created a gap between the capacity and the expectations. In addition, Turkey needs to build its expectations and policies in line with this multi-dimensionalism. If there is a gap between these two; efforts on foreign politics cannot result in diplomatic triumphs. I think Turkish foreign politics faced certain deficiencies in the practice of vision; since that parameter was not taken into consideration and the expectations towards the role to be pursued in the region were way over capacity. And still, the vision faces obstacles before being put into practice.

Please cite this publication as follows:

ResearchTurkey (June, 2013), “Interview with Associate Professor Aylin Güney: “Has Turkey Missed the EU Boat?””, Vol. II, Issue 4, pp.74-82, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. ( )