Reassessing the Impact of the Europeanisation on Civil Society of Turkey

Dr. Sezin Dereci, Local Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TÜSEV)

– November 30, 2013 Background – Europeanization literature has recently incorporated studies of pre-accession effects on candidate countries, and several scholars brought significant contributions to conceptualizing mechanisms of the EU impact beyond the member states (Goetz 2005; Grabbe 2001; Schimmelfennig/ Sedelmeier 2005). However their model predominantly favors intergovernmental aspects and explains the compliance of governments in target states to the European model induced for EU membership. These observations are valid for Turkey, which is an acceding state to the EU. The agenda of EU-Turkey relations has been occupied with Turkey’s macro-political deficiencies in fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria (Diez et al 2005) and the analysis predominantly remained at the institutional level.

This paper takes the analysis further and discusses the EU’s impact upon political level and civil society of Turkey particularly, in the ongoing but handicapped accession process. The application of the EU acquis conditionality makes it possible to transform the relation of civil society to state; the EU funding support capacity- building of civil society and the multilevel nature of EU polity extends political outlets for civil society (Kutter and Trappman 2010; Börzel 2010a; Knodt 2001; Börzel/Buzogány 2010b; Börzel/Buzogány; 2010c).  Thus, such changes empower civil society of accession states and potentially allow their participation in policy adoption and implementation processes.

The EU acquis and formal mechanisms of Europeanization have changed the political environment of Turkey. Along with the scholarly accounts confirming the EU’s transformative impact upon state- civil society configuration (Keyman / Icduygu 2003; Kubicek 2005; Diez et al 2005) in Turkey, civil society organizations (CSOs) themselves have acknowledged the positive impact of the EU on the civil society environment. The CIVICUS Civil Society Index Country Report for Turkey (2006, 2011) included a section to assessing the impact of the EU’s impact on NGO law and regulations, capacity of CSOs and civil society-state relations added as indicators. The results confirm that CSOs generally acknowledges the positive impact of the EU on these different dimensions. Moreover, in quantitative terms the civil society in Turkey was grown substantially with the EU anchor. The statistics of Interior Ministry on the number of associations indicate that there are 97,686 active associations in 2013; this number was 60,931 in 2000, moreover, the number of volunteers reached over 8 million in 2012, compared with only 4 million in 2004[1].

The following sections will scrutinize mechanisms of EU policy towards civil society of Turkey in accession process and their consequences under three dimensions: political – institutional infrastructure, capacity building and horizontal linkages. Moreover, this paper also briefly discusses the direction of the EU’s policy agenda for Turkish civil society in the foreseeable future.

Political – institutional infrastructure

EU policy towards accession states mainly includes EU conditionality with respect to enlargement. The EU membership of a candidate state is conditional on them fully meeting the Copenhagen criteria (democratic conditionality) and adopting the EU acquis (acquis conditionality). (Schimmelfennig / Sedelmeier 2004). Accession states find themselves in the ‘no-exit’ position when they agree to comply with the conditionality of EU membership. First, the EU decides on the extent of the misfit (the deviation of national regulations from the EU regulations). With wide range of tools, the EU determines the favorable political setting for the national government to reach for EU membership and eventually the ongoing EU-led adjustment process has a transformative impact on the domestic political settings. In direct forms, there has been direct intervention of the EU on the political environment of Turkish civil society via conditionality, with an impact on the  organization  of  the  politics  and  daily  routines  of  policy formulation  by   imposing  treaty  revision  and  formal  intergovernmental  agreement  affecting  the formal  organization  of  politics.

The EU political conditionality has enforced the Turkish state to improve the enabling political environment in favour of civil society. The EU placed the demand on the Turkish government to meet the minimum requirements for civil society development, with progress assessed through the situation of civil society context particularly in respect of the Copenhagen criteria. The most significant impetus in EU- Turkey relations has been experienced following Turkey was granted EU candidacy in 1999. Between 2000 and 2005, when the reform process was at its peak point, substantial changes were realized involving the legal foundations regulating state and society relations through a series of reforms, and by 2004, the law of associations had been updated and liberalized substantially (Göksel / Güneş 2005; Kubicek 2011). On the other hand, by 2008, amendments made to the Law on Associations and Foundations furthered the freedom of associations and enabling environment of civil society. For instance, these new provisions eased the foundations’ workings regarding their establishment and funding of activities.  Despite improvements in legal structure, EU progress report 2013  cites examples of a restrictive interpretation of legislation vis-à-vis civil society in Turkey including excessive fining,  limiting the right to publish press statement, requiring advance notification of demonstrations and disruption of demonstrations and disproportionate use of force by the police against demonstrators.

The EU had also repeatedly addressed the need for strengthening state- civil society cooperation in the governance of the accession process (The EU Progress Report, 2008; 2010). A study conducted by TÜSEV (2011) also confirms that state-civil society relations do not work smoothly, with current problems not relating to the existence of the law but rather their implementation. The report advocates the visible incompatibility between the strong state tradition in Turkey and the participatory decision-making mechanism envisaged by the EU integration process. The EU Progress Report 2013 states civil society participation in policy making cycle on ad hoc basis since there are no participatory mechanism defined in the legislation that allow permanent and structured consultations with CSOs.

Recently, the EC has accepted the guiding principles for EC Support of the Development of Civil Society in Turkey for the 2011- 2015 after an open consultation process from 5 April to 30 May 2010 with 12 meetings across Turkey and electronic consultation with Turkish Civil Society and Turkish public authorities[2].This policy paper has a multi-annual strategic approach by explicitly determining objectives, possible EC actions and indicators for assessment[3]. Especially, specific motivation of this document clearly indicates that civil society participation in stages of policy making will have possible implications on the accession process. Several sources confirm that the absence of the formal institutional mechanisms for mediating relations with civil society and government hinders the civil society participation in accession process of Turkey[4]. EU funded project Technical Assistance for Civil Society organizations (TACSO) with their scheduled activities hinting that the EU is placing extra significance on the preparation of a code of conduct regulating civil society and state relations in Turkey[5].

Capacity- Building

The EU intends to build the capacity of civil society by providing financial aid, training and technical assistance, and opening up their possibilities to engage in the ongoing rule adoption and implementation process of acceding states. The Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) supports Turkey’s efforts to meet the Copenhagen criteria, with special attention placed on the political criteria and particularly strengthening institutional capacity and investment related to the adoption of the acquis. The beneficiaries of EU‘s financial assistance not only include the public sector or Turkish government, but also such programs addressing the needs of non-state actors, including business interest groups, trade unions, small and medium sized enterprises (SME), associations, foundations and non-profit organizations. To illustrate, The European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) has focused on Turkey and supported CSOs through micro and macro-projects; between 2002 and 2012, over 100 micro and macro projects were implemented with an annual budget of over 2 million Euros [6].

The ‘Civil Society Facility’ (CSF) came into force in 2008, including civil society in decision-making processes through their financial support. The CSF holds the clear objective of enhancing participatory democracy in Turkey by improving civil society–state dialogue, enhancing their capacity to contribute effectively to public sector reforms, and increasing the access of CSOs to financial resources[7].This initiative relies on the 2008 -2009 Enlargement Strategy, which clearly associates the success of the accession process with the involvement of civil society in policy dialogue and consultations. It argued that the engagement of civil society in the pre-accession process increases the quality of the accession process and enhances public support for the ongoing reform processes. The CSF recently released 1.75 million Euros in 2013 for Turkish civil society to with an objective to contribute to the strengthening of capacities of existing or new national, regional, local and/or thematic platforms and networks of (CSOs) to give citizens a voice and influence public sector reform processes through their activities. In 2013, another comprehensive project entitled ‘Strengthening Civil Society Development and Civil Society-Public Sector Cooperation in Turkey’ has started with an aim to betterment of enabling environment of civil society and empowerment of capacity of civil society in Turkey. As an example, on the of the sub-projects support the establishment of a mutually accepted code of conduct regulate the civil society organizations and public authorities. Prominent organizations work in civil society development field including Third Sector Foundation (TÜSEV), Civil Society Development Centre (STGM) and YADA Foundation are implementers of this project[8].  Moreover, The EU launched  a project entitled  ‘Balkan Civil Society Acquis – Monitoring Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development Project’ in 2012 to strengthen integration and participation of CSOs of Western Balkan countries, including Turkey, in EU policy and accession processes at European and country level[9].The project has an objective to create a monitoring mechanism for tracking of development of civil society, to facilitate the inclusion of related matters in the EU Progress Report and to support the participation of CSOs in the decision making processes at the national and EU level[10].

Horizontal linkages

Third, by its nature, the EU itself is a multilevel political entity, offering multiple access points for non-state actors. Besides  the  institutional  arenas  at  the  EU  level,  non-state  actors  also  find  new political realms at the transnational level via memberships of networks and platforms operating at the EU level (Sudbery 2010). In the case of the accession states, the EU directly initiates formation of horizontal linkages among CSOs to foster Europeanization. For instance, The EC adopted Civil Society Dialogue between the EU and candidate countries in 2005, immediately after the accession negotiations started with Turkey. In Turkish case, the EC highlighted that the accession process of Turkey is challenging both for the country itself and the EU, given that Turkey’s accession would be different than previous cases based upon ‘Turkey’s population, size, geographical location, economic, security and military potential, as well as cultural and religious characteristics.’[11].

The EC proposed civil society dialogue as the third pillar of the EU[12] to address the cultural and socio-economic gap which endangers the smooth accession of Turkey. Sustainable dialogue between the societies of the candidate countries and in the EU member States, as well as with the EU institutions is being supported by grant programmes to complement the ongoing accession process. As a continuation of the previous civil society dialogue projects, Civil Society Dialogue III grant programme have been launched in 2013 and offers funds under thematic fields of political criteria grants and media grants[13]. Political Grant of the programme acknowledges the significant role played by CSOs in accession process in terms of minimizing the differences between national and European legislation and implementation practices. Funding schemes target furthering contacts and mutual exchanges of information and experiences between civil society actors in the EU Member States and Turkey on issues related to political criterion. The priority areas are determined as human rights, anti-discrimination, democracy and rule of law. Similarly, media grant of the programme aims to support a sustainable dialogue between the media organizations in Turkey and the EU member states. Grant projects to be supported will enable collaborations between media sector in Turkey and with their European counterparts and contribute increasing awareness about the Turkey-EU relations in the public. As one of the three component of the Civil Society Facility, People 2 People (P2P) programme promotes exchanges of CSOs in the candidate and potential candidate countries with their counterparts based in EU countries and with the EU institutions to expand their knowledge in the EU and the accession process[14]. In the tentative calendar of P2P, 21 activities were determined. These activities include but not limited to initiatives related to “Fostering Civil Society in the Candidate and Potential Candidate countries” and bringing “New approach in EU Accession Negotiations”[15].


This paper examined the ways in which the EU Accession process transforms the operating arenas of environments of the civil society in Turkey. From the very beginning, the EU aims to promote participatory mechanisms to include has civil society into accession processes in order to safeguard the healthy accession and implementation of the rules after possible accession. Civil society is considered as the safety net or pressure group facilitating the reform process at the domestic level. Moreover, civil society has been supported to establish sustainable relations to their counterparts in European states in order to change negative perceptions on Turkish accession endangering smooth accession process.

Reform packages to meet EU acquis that have been passed by the government have considerably liberalized the associational structure. It is widely acknowledged that the EU accession process has had a direct impact on changes in the law of associations and charities. Yet, the freedom of associations and autonomy of CSOs have been partially attained due to severe deficiencies in the implementation. The EU has specifically addressed the lack of consultation mechanisms and law regulates state society interaction in Turkey in recent years. It appears that future efforts will also further address strengthening participatory mechanisms. Aftermath 2008, with adoption of Civil Society Facility, the EU took more systemized approach to overcome problems blocking civil society participation in governing the accession process.  Especially adoption of the guiding principles for EC Support of the Development of Civil Society in Turkey for the 2011- 2015 and launch of EU-funded projects hint that regardless the slowed down accession process, the EU increasingly addresses the significance of input of civil society to accession processes. Lastly, it is evident that this is not peculiar to the case of Turkish accession, but relevant for other accession states and prospective EU candidate countries.

Dr. Sezin Dereci, Local Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TÜSEV)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Dereci, Sezin (November, 2013), “Reassessing the Impact of the Europeanisation on Civil Society of Turkey”, Vol. II, Issue 9, pp.36-41, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (


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[1] Foundations Directorate. Official Statistics, in:

[2] EU Delegation to Turkey website. Information on EU and civil society, in:

[3] European Commission’s Guiding Principles for EC Support of the Development of Civil Society in Turkey 2011-2015, Brussels.

[4] This report offers the conceptual framework for the enabling civil society environment and provides  data from nine countries.

[5] Technical Assistance for Civil Society Organisations, The Civil Society Environment in the Western Balkans and Turkey report, in:

[6] Europeaid, EIDHR Turkey  Programme, in:

[7] EU enlargement, Civil Society Facility 2011-2012 (9) Country Fiche: Turkey.

[8] EU Delegation to Turkey website.Information on EU and civil society, in:

[9] Third Sector Foundation of Turkey  (TUSEV) Website, in:

[10] Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV) is the implementing partner of the Monitoring Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development Project coordinated by Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN). This project assesses the quality of the enabling environment for civil society development in Turkey through reviewing the legal framework and its application in practice under sub-three areas : (1) Basic Legal Guarantees of Freedoms; (2) Framework for CSOs’ Financial Viability and Sustainability; (3) Government – CSO Relationship.

[11] European Commission’s Staff Working Document issues arising from Turkey’s membership perspective, SEC(2004) 1202, October 6, 2004, 4-6.

[12] EU’s three-pillar policy vis-à-vis Turkey: ―the first pillar focused on reinforcing the political reform process in Turkey, the second pillar consisted of conducting negotiations under a revised methodological approach and the third pillar was about a EU-Turkey dialogue.

[13] Third cycle of Civil Society Dialogue Project will allocate over € 9 million for the years 2013-2015.

Civil Society Dialogue Project, Civil Society Dialogue,

in:[14] The People 2 People Programme (P2P), in:

[15] P2P 2013 Calendar, in: