Despite Turkey’s achievements of enormous economic progress over the last decade and the initiation of a number of crucial reform packages to bring the state closer to the EU benchmarks, the government has recently been sharply criticised due to relatively poor economic growth and a corruption scandal
Moreover, President Gul has signed a law subordinating the judiciary to the executive as well as a restrictive Internet law. This is seen by many as an important indicator that Turkey is falling back from the path of democracy.
The outcome of the 30 March local elections will provide an important bellwether of the overall performance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The general elections, which are planned for June 2015, might take place earlier, depending on the prevailing political and economic circumstances.
These elections as well as the presidential elections, foreseen for August, will also have a profound impact on Turkey’s foreign relations. This discussion will analyse the current situation in the country right after the local elections and will outline possible future scenarios.
Turkey: Sailing from bad to worse?
1 April 2014 Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, Rue du Commerce 20, 1000 Brussels
The event, part of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies ‘Food for Thought’ series, analysed the recent political developments in Turkey, including the results of the local elections held on 30 March. The panel welcomed Alojz Peterle, Member of the European Parliament, Ian Lesser, Executive Director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Serdar Yesilyurt, Executive Director, TUKSON EU epresentation. The panel was opened by Tomi Huhtanen, Martens Centre Director and moderated by Roland Freudenstein, Deputy Director and Head of Research at the Martens Centre.
Tomi Huhtanen gave a brief summation of events in Turkey preceding the latest elections. He put the question to the panel: where do we go from here in light of the worrying and disappointing recent developments?
Serdar Yesilyurt commented that the elections were held in a very emotional atmosphere. This was fuelled by the comparison to the Turkish war of independence made by Prime Minster Erdogan. He described 2010 as a turning point for Turkey as this was the year that the AK Party (AKP) began to grasp for more power. To tackle the corruption charges that came to light last year, the government seized control of the investigation and removed police and prosecutorial officers. They also began to feed the idea that the allegations stemmed from US or Israeli sources. The corruption cases did not become a primary election issue as Erdogan claimed that it could not be corruption when public money was not involved. Yesilyurt also highlighted that 40% of Turkish media is in the ownership of people close to Erdogan, as a result the public were exposed more to conspiracy theories than other explanations or facts on the cases. He also argued that the election result can be explained by the lack of a credible opposition in Turkey.
Alojz Peterle considered the impact the elections could potentially have on EU-Turkey relations. According to him the accession process has been overshadowed by recent internal developments in Turkey. The EU and
Turkey do not interpret these developments in the same manner, further, the terminology has changed to such an extent that at the moment neither side are speaking the same language. For example, there is a fundamental difference in what is meant by power between the EU and Turkey. Peterle said that the basis for any effective partnership is the sharing of fundamental principles. Hence, the current focus of the Turkish government on hard power is hard to reconcile with the soft approach of the EU. The recent local elections are more than just elections, Peterle concluded: they have a massive impact on the path that Turkey appears to be following.
Ian Lesser reflected on the impact the election outcome will have on Turkey’s regional and international relationships. According to him, the election result confirms key realities in Turkish politics. Firstly, the lack of a credible opposition as well as the strength of the AK Party and Erdogan has been underlined. There seems to be no alternative to him as a charismatic leader, and to the AKP as a well-organised party. Secondly, membership of the EU is becoming an incredibly hard sell to both the EU public but also the Turkish public. Thirdly, Lesser argued that we are going back to post-Cold War politics where Turkey is seen less as a bridge but more of a barrier. The ‘permissive political environment’ that existed in Turkey before 2010 is no longer there. The contributions of the panel were followed by a questions and answers session which covered topics such as the increasing role of religion in Turkish discourse, the future of Turkish foreign policy and what is in store for the next five years for Turkey.