The European Union and Democratization ‘From Below’ in Turkey

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The European Union and Democratization ‘From Below’ in Turkey

Paul Kubicek

Department of Political Science

Oakland University

Rochester MI 48309

Paper presented for the biannual conference of the European Union Studies Association, Austin TX, March 31-April 2 2005. Comments welcome.

In December 2004, the European Union (EU) agreed to open accession talks with Turkey. For many Turks, this was a long-awaited affirmation of Turkey’s European vocation, a project whose roots date to the beginning of the Turkish Republic. Of course, eventual membership in the EU is not assured, and many in Europe object to the prospect of Turkish accession on political, economic, and/or cultural grounds.1 However, the EU’s decision was a real breakthrough for many reasons, not the least of which is that it stated that Turkey had met the political aspects of the Copenhagen Criteria for membership. This was in sharp contrast to EU pronouncements in 1997, when the Turkish membership bid was rejected because of the shortcomings of democracy in Turkey.

Regardless of the fate of Turkey’s EU bid, there is little doubt that the Turkish state and society have been transformed in recent years by a “political avalanche of democratization.”2 Although there have been voices calling for political liberalization in Turkey for many years, the immediate impetus for this transformation was the EU’s decision in 1999 to accept Turkish candidacy for membership with the stipulation that Turkey would have to make numerous political reforms to gain eventual entry into the organization. In the wake of that decision, Turkish governments have pushed through a number of reforms in some sensitive areas (e.g. rights for Kurds and Kurdish language, circumscribing the power of the military) that would have been unthinkable just a few years before. One Turkish observer noted that the EU had sparked a “period of profound and momentous change in Turkish history…[that] would have been impossible in the absence of a powerful and highly institutionalized EU anchor in the direction of full membership.”3 Indeed, the reforms in Turkey, which for years had been a “reluctant democratizer,” can be cited as successful application of political conditionality of the EU and the power of external agents of democratization.4

Many questions remain about Turkish democracy, however. Many of the reforms are quite recent, and implementation remains a problem. Others worry if they will last beyond the leadership of the current government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. French Prime Minister Jean Marie Raffarin recently asked, “We are not doubting the good faith of Mr. Erdogan, but to what extent can today or tomorrow’s government make Turkish society embrace Europe’s human rights values? Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?”5 More significantly, one might ask about the degree of support for democratization within the Turkish public and civil society. In 2000, one Turkish writer complained that Turks were making reforms like students who do their homework only because the teacher tells them to do it.6 In this view, democratization was more imposed from the outside than imbued with Turkish authorship, and it was more an instrumental adaptation to the demands of conditionality than a sincere change based upon acceptance and internalization of democratic norms. Turks were thus arguably responding to the “logic of consequentiality” (do X because you will get Y) rather than the “logic of appropriateness” (do X because it is the right thing to do).7

This paper addresses this issue by examining the role of forces ‘from below’ within Turkey in the Turkish reform project and the role of the EU in encouraging such forces. As such, it seeks to understand the nexus between external and internal agents of democratization. As noted, if the reforms are more a European than a Turkish project and if they do not have diffuse support among the population or benefit from a sense of domestic ownership, one would expect both the accession process to be more difficult and the reforms to be poorly institutionalized. On the other hand, to the extent that the EU is able to work with Turks and foster acceptance of democratic norms and empower democratically-oriented forces within Turkey, one would be far more sanguine about democratic consolidation in Turkey.

The Interface of International and Domestic Agents of Democratization

Democratization has become a prominent sub-field within comparative politics. The first ‘wave’ of the democratization literature de-emphasized the role of external factors in democracy promotion,8 but, by the mid-1990s, there was renewed interest in whether and how international factors affected processes of domestic democratization. Much of this literature was rooted in the experience of the EU, which was viewed as a powerful force that helped foster democratization in East-Central Europe.9 Various propositions were put forward to help us understand how international factors help spur democratization. These included a diffusion effect, an international zeitgeist, socialization that help spread democratic norms, and use of political conditionality. Still, scholars suggested that the apparent cause-and-effect relationship between the EU and democratization was “under-theorized” and “more assumed than proven.”10 In the Turkish context, Nathalie Tocci, while noting that the EU has played an important role, asks if the EU is better understood as a “trigger” for reforms (meaning it sparked them) or if it is merely an “anchor,” important mainly insofar as it gives support for domestic actors that generated the reform process.11

In the broader comparative context, part of the problem was that not all states reacted similarly to this supposed zeitgeist, socialization, or use of political conditionality. Even within Europe, some states remained “reluctant democratizers” (e.g. Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Latvia), meaning that they did not rush to meet all the demands of the EU and put up some resistance to political liberalization even when offered the alluring carrot of membership in the EU. Eventually, many of these states did succumb to the demands of EU conditionality, but one key point is that EU’s democratization agenda was filtered through a state’s domestic politics.12

What does this mean in practice? One crucial factor, according to one set of writers, is that external agents need to foster “transnational networks” with elites, parties, and non-governmental organizations within the targeted state. These alliances would be particularly important in states where more authoritarian-oriented elites had little incentive to democratize. In addition to providing resources to democratically-oriented opposition groups, they would also help educate citizens in democratic norms and practice and thereby create more support and legitimacy for political liberalization. The result is a “boomerang effect” in which elites resistant to change are caught in a “pincer” as pressure comes about both from outside from domestic actors.13

In essence, the issue is the development of civil society, which is generally assumed to be an invaluable force for democratization in much of the literature.14 To the extent that outside agents can bolster a state’s civil society, the prospects for democratization improve. A caveat, of course, is that the external agents must be seen as authoritative and legitimate and that the norms they promote must have some resonance with pre-existing traditions in the target state—what Checkel calls a “cultural match.”15 The more the norm matches preexisting values, interests, practices, and identity and the less it has domestic or even regional competitors, the easier it will find adherents within the targeted state and the harder it will be for entrenched elites to oppose the norm since it is not so much “foreign” but instead a reflection of the state’s own culture and values. In the case of the EU, there are numerous programs and opportunities available for interaction with civil society in aspiring members. In Central and Eastern Europe, one report suggested that the EU’s democracy programs were of “considerable value” for the development of civil society, which is turn played a “crucial role in the process of democratization.”16

Transnational networks are relatively easy to identify, even quantify. It is far more difficult, however, to pinpoint the precise motivations for democratization. In other words, why does a state or actors within a state respond to pressures and/or blandishments to democratize? This question dogs much of the literature, and in a specific case may be hard to illuminate. One might argue that this is not crucial, as all that matters is whether the targeted state changes course. However, if state elites only acquiesce to the norm, they may create only “Potemkin” institutions that meet some formal criteria but do little to see that policies are implemented in a manner that really brings about substantive change.17

In general, one can make a distinction between internalization of democratic norms as opposed to changes rooted in instrumental, utilitarian calculations. As noted, this corresponds to the “logic of appropriateness” and the “logic of consequentiality.” The former would stress genuine change in values and beliefs, fostered by socialization, (re)education, and learning, often thanks to involvement with international actors. In other words, it occurs in light of a “rational assessment of morally valid arguments” and requires actors to transcend a particular contextual rationality that heretofore had worked against political liberalization.18 Put simply, the expectation, in the EU context, is that EU sponsored aid, training programs, “twinning projects,” and exchanges will provide a social influence and make good democrats out of those who had previously not lived in a democratic society or held democratic values. More so than in the case of political conditionality, such efforts aim to foster democracy ‘from below’ and engage non-state actors in the democratization project.

The “logic of consequentiality,” on the other hand, reflects the demands of political conditionality: Do X to get Y. In the case of the EU, the Y could be aid or trade benefits, but the evidence suggests that it is the prospect of membership that acts as a real catalyst to spur political change. There is no assumption that values or core beliefs of previously “reluctant democrats” will change. Moreover, to the extent that political conditionality appeals primarily to existing political elites—those with the ability to make and implement the required changes—it works more through inter-governmental material bargaining. There is less emphasis, at least in the short term, on broader engagement with non-state actors.

Again, in a given case it may be difficult to ascertain motivations for change. One possible expectation would be that it is easier to appeal initially to conditionality and that norms will change only over a longer period of time. Thus, first one sees instrumental adaptation to democratic practices, what Diez et al, in the Turkish context, call “policy Europeanization,” meaning that reform is defined by and confined to the areas of concern to the EU. On the other hand, one might see “societal” or “political Europeanization,” meaning that policy changes primarily as a response to altered domestic political conditions conducive to reform.19 Again, this matters because one would expect the latter condition to favor the sustainability and better implementation of reforms to the extent that they have a domestic constituency and authorship. Our task is to ascertain which process better captures the still-dynamic case of political reforms in Turkey.
Democratization in Turkey
After a military coup in 1980, Turkey returned to civilian rule in 1983. The 1982 Constitution, however, was drafted under the aegis of the military regime and in many respects reflected its authoritarian and statist values. It gave the state sizeable discretion to restrict freedom of expression and association and gave the military an institutionalized role in many aspects of policymaking and in the judicial system. In addition to codified law, the practice of torture and ill-treatment of the Kurdish minority marred Turkey’s human rights record throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Despite some reforms in the 1990s (e.g. changes to the anti-terror law, amendments to expand freedom of association, ratification of UN and European conventions prohibiting torture), Turkey’s democratic shortcomings would be consistently noted by the EU and thwarted its aspirations to join the organization.20 In the political science lexicon, the “costs of compliance”—especially on issues such as rights for the Kurdish minority and limiting the military’s political role—were deemed intolerably high by the Turkish elite, especially when the EU was not putting the highly valued carrot of membership on the table for Turkey.

As noted, in 1999 at its Helsinki Summit, the EU formally declared Turkey a candidate member, but it was clear that Turkey would have to make progress on a number of fronts in order to meet the Copenhagen Criteria, especially with regard to political and civic freedoms, minority rights, abolishment of the death penalty and torture, and stripping the military of its political prerogatives. This decision of the EU would prove to be momentous. If before there had been half-hearted reform efforts and only superficial debate on what EU membership would mean, the 1999 Helsinki decision would provide an “irreversible impetus” to the reform process.21

As early as March 2000, the government advanced a National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis designed to help meet EU criteria. This program proposed 89 new laws and 94 amendments to existing laws. There was, however, opposition to some proposed measures from the nationalist Milliyetci Hareket Partisi (MHP, Nationalist Action Party), which was then a member of the governing coalition, and from certain voices within the military. Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the MHP, for example, declared that Kurdish language education and broadcasting “are not going to happen” and another MHP deputy, responding to European concern on human rights issues, suggested that “issues that go against the fiber of our country are not matters open to discussion.”22 Ziya Onis suggested in the immediate wake of Helsinki that Turkish leaders did not fully realize how the EU requirements would interfere with Turkey’s domestic politics and that human rights would become the sine qua non for entry.23

Nonetheless, substantial reforms would occur, as by the end of 2004, nine reform or “harmonization” packages made their way through the Turkish National Assembly. Three of these would be under the left-right coalition government (2000-2002) and six under the AKP government, elected in November 2002. These reforms would dramatically alter the Turkish political landscape, and would include 34 constitutional amendments in 2001 and ten more in 2004.24 Highlights of the reforms include narrowing the basis for which the state could freedom rights and liberties (Article 13 and 14 of the Constitution), more liberal provisions for freedom of assembly (Article 34), limiting punishment for insulting state institutions (Article 159), elimination of the death penalty (finally abolished for all crimes in 2004), abolition of the State Security Courts, amendments to strip the military of positions on state councils, a new and more liberal Law on Associations in July 2004 (especially relevant for civil society groups), and changes to the notorious Article 313 of the Penal Code that had been liberally applied against Islamists and Kurds for “inciting ethnic or religious hatred.” The EU responded by granting Turkey an Accession Partnership in 2001 (revised in March 2003), and has been closely monitoring and advising on reform efforts. While implementation of some of these reforms (e.g. especially on use of Kurdish and ending torture and prisoner abuse) is still an issue, the reforms did go far enough for the EU in December 2004 to give a green light for accession talks.

With the exception of some in the MHP leadership, these reforms enjoyed wide support at the elite level. One account suggests that the 2001 amendments were the product of “intense negotiations and “compromises” among all parties in parliament and that this was a “good omen” for democratization in Turkey.25 The military, particularly under the leadership of Chief of Staff Hilmi Ozkok, has also acceded to the need to make substantial reforms to gain entry into the EU. As for the AKP, which is a recent incarnation of previously-banned Islamist parties, Avci suggests that it has pushed through reforms not just for instrumentalist reasons but as part of moral imperative, with Prime Minister Erdogan declaring in July 2004 that Turkey would push ahead with reforms even if the EU failed to open accession talks with Turkey.26

However, it is less clear how deeply the commitment to reform is within the Turkish public and to what extent Turkish civil society is involved in the process. True, some civic groups—notably TUSIAD (Turk Sanyicileri ve Isadamlari Dernegi—Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen Association)—had long been advocates of political reform27, and there is evidence to suggest that support for Turkish membership in the EU among the public has increased over time.28 However, the speed with which these reforms were initially proposed may give one pause, given the fact that many of these measures (especially on rights for the Kurdish language) were deemed impolitic or impossible literally months before they were put on the table. Should one assume that Turkish elites were simply “following orders,” doing what was expected of them by the EU, or was “learning” at work, meaning that “behaviour changes as actors question original implicit theories underlying programs and examine their value”?29 Perhaps the latter was true, but one might retort that it was a very quick learning curve for many.

This line of questioning, while interesting, is not our focus, however. Our questions are to what extent (if any) these reforms were demand-driven from below and how the EU has engaged with Turkish civil society in the reform process.
The Role of Forces ‘From Below’
Civil society
Turkish civil society has traditionally been portrayed as weak, passive, and controlled or channeled by the state through corporatist structures. Some would attribute this to vestiges of Ottoman political culture; others would point to the bureaucratic-authoritarian nature of the early Turkish republic.30 In any event, the stereotype was that Turks looked toward a devlet baba (“father-state”) rather than to social self-organization to provide leadership and essential services and that there was little genuine grassroots mobilization to underpin Turkey’s unstable democratic institutions.

This stereotype was always a bit of a caricature, as Turkey had thousands of different organizations and vakiflar (foundations) and one might even say that some of the more unruly elements in Turkish civil society contributed to the instability that led to a military coup in 1980. By the 1990s, after a period of substantial economic liberalization, Turkish civil society became more visible and vocal, often demanding greater political liberalization. Islamic organizations and business associations took the lead in inserting themselves into the political life of the country, with the latter deeply committed to democratization and the country’s European ambitions.31 Kurdish, Alevi, environmental, feminist and other groups appeared on the scene, and the Global Habitat II Conference in Istanbul in 1996 provided an opportunity for Turkish civic groups to act in a very visible manner.32 Five labor and employer organizations formed a civil initative (Besli Sivil Insiyatif).33 Still, on a number of indicators (e.g. membership, funding, levels of inter-personal trust), Turkish civil society was “frail,” less developed than that of advanced industrialized states.34

The earthquakes of 1999 would be a significant event for Turkish civil society, as various secular and Islamic groups played a leading role in disaster relief when the state proved incapable of mobilizing quickly and effectively enough. Some suggested that the entire state-dominated system collapsed in the wake of the earthquake and that the disaster had created a new “faultline” that would have marked repercussions in political life.35 Despite these hopes, however, the state did rebound a bit, asserting control over some groups and co-opting others, so that there was no sustained movement from below that threatened state authority.36

However, it was in this context—one in which civil society was more activated than ever before and the state was more on the defensive—that the door to Europe opened for Turkey in December 1999. As noted, this was followed by a wave of political reform in the country, reforms that were rejected by political elites just years before. No doubt, the EU provided a necessary push for reforms, creating a supportive international environment and a “virtuous” as opposed to a “vicious” circle in which half-hearted reforms failed to generate momentum for broad democratic consolidation.37 At issue, however, is whether and how the EU has gone beyond pressure on elites and forged transnational networks with Turkish actors to push for these reforms, strengthen their domestic content and legitimacy, and spread acceptance of democratic norms amongst the Turkish citizenry.

No doubt, there has been a flurry of activity in Turkey by the EU and other external organizations with a democratization mandate (e.g. the Open Society Institute [Soros Foundation]). As citizens of a candidate country, Turks can apply to a host of EU programs for grants, exchanges, and training. Both the Turkish political elite and NGO (non-governmental organization) sector are in close contact with their counterparts in Brussels and in member state capitals. While some noted that EU aid to Turkey in the 1990s was rather meager when compared to aid to countries in post-communist Europe,38 EU aid has become more substantial since the Helsinki summit. For 2000-2006, total EU assistance is expected to be almost three billion Euros, a third of which would be pre-accession oriented grants. Moreover, financial assistance is foreseen to double between 2004 and 2006. The EU envisions that its monies will be more or less equally distributed to investment in regulatory infrastructure, regional development, and institution-building. It is in the last category (which includes twinning projects to assist the Turkish bureaucracy) that non-governmental organizations can play a role in “supporting initiatives aimed at the consolidation and further development of democratic practices, the rule of law, human rights, equality for women and men and the protection of minorities.”39

Certainly, there is a myriad of civic groups in Turkey that could benefit from EU largesse and political support—as of 2004, there were over 100,000 associations.40 Many prominent business, academic, and human rights organizations—including TUSIAD, IKV (Iktisadi Kalkinma Vakfi, Economic Development Foundation), Insan Haklari Dernegi (Human Rights Association), Turk Tarih Vakfi (Turkish History Foundation), Turkiye Ucuncu Sektor Vakfi (Third Sector Foundation of Turkey), Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, and ARI Movement have launched many projects with EU partners, lobbied for Turkish accession in Brussels, and put pressure on the Turkish government to adopt various reforms. One hundred and seventy-five NGOs formed a consortium, European Movement (Avrupa Hareketi) in 2002, and the IKV took the lead in launching The Turkey Platform, which by 2004 included 269 NGOs that lobbied for Turkish membership in addition to pressuring Ankara to make necessary reforms for EU accession.41 Universities and academic centers play an important role in this process, with thirteen different European Documentation Centres established in Turkey to provide information and to encourage research and education on the EU. Anecdotally, one could argue that there is more interest in EU Studies in Turkey than anywhere elsewhere else in Europe.

While these numbers are impressive, one might still be skeptical. Simsek insists that that civil society is more of a slogan than an important political reality and that the impact of these groups, for various structural reasons, remains “trivial.”42 One might also note that membership in most groups is quite low and that their resources are often very limited.43 Thus, it is worth looking a little more closely at what Turkish NGOs are doing to further the broader ‘Europeanization’ agenda.

Without question, there has been a real effort by the EU to engage NGOs in the Turkish reform process. While most of the aid monies goes to programs to help with the Turkish government, the NGO sector has also been involved in numerous exchanges, seminars, conferences, and partnerships with Europeans. The EU’s Civil Society Development Programme’s (CSDP) aims to boost NGO capacity in a number of areas (e.g. project design and implementation, fundraising, communication, employment) and to “develop capacity for citizen’s initiatives and dialogue, domestically and abroad, and to help establish a more balanced relationship between citizens and the state, thereby contributing to the maturing of democratic practice.” It oversees a program with five components: local civic initiatives, Greek-Turkish civic dialogue,44 a trade union dialogue, police professionalism, and development of chambers. All stress cooperation with international partners, and for 2003-2004 were funded with eight million Euros.45 Funding for civic initiatives has included various projects, some apolitical (e.g. a bird watching program, civic engineering), but many that touched clearly on political themes (e.g. support to the Women Solidarity Foundation, Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association [an Alevi group], and the Circassian Cultural Association of Adana [an advocate for an ethnic minority group]).46 Other EU programs stress human rights development and education, and in June 2003 the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights launched a competition for funding for micro-projects on issues of torture, anti-discrimination, and good governance. Thirteen projects were given a total of 600,000 Euro. In 2004, the EU launched another project to improve NGO-public sector cooperation, which had been envisioned as a priority in a 2003 reform when the Ministry of Interior formed a department for outreach to civic associations. Other EU-financed programs include a human rights photographic exhibition and a program to provide human rights material to Turkish youth.47

True, these projects are not large in Euro terms, particularly compared to assistance to the Turkish government, but this external support is vital for more local, non-business oriented groups that do not have powerful Turkish patrons. Moreover, as two activists from the ARI Movement note, cooperation with European and other actors have bolstered the legitimacy and credibility of domestic NGOs, as well as providing a benchmark of sorts (e.g. comparing the status of women in Europe with that in Turkey) that also helps activists make a case for reform.48

Can one say that this makes a big difference? Certainly, judging from websites and press releases of the many of the Turkish organizations listed above, there is a veritable preoccupation with the European project, with European directives and statements often becoming the framing discourse for the reform agenda. On the ground in a more concrete way, one can say that EU support can make a difference in some areas. For example, the EU has helped sponsor a training program in human rights for judges, prosecutors, and police. Observers note that such programs, unimaginable a decade ago, are helping to break down nationalistic approaches to human rights law by exposing Turkish law enforcement officials to international norms.49 An NGO committed to gender equality, the Womens’ Coalition, which engaged in extensive lobbying with Turkish officials and helped create an alliance among other NGOs, was intimately involved with legislative projects that led to the passage of a number of measures in July 2004 to improve the status of women. While this had been an area of concern for Europe, the participation of this NGO in the reform process helped give the final measures Turkish authorship.50 Two activists from the ARI Movement, which has been intimately involved in numerous EU-sponsored human rights projects, note that argue that the terms of the debate over human rights have changed. Instead of being accused of trying to undermine Turkey by lobbying for controversial measures such as Kurdish rights, Turkish human rights activists can now argue that they are trying to strengthen Turkey by helping it gain accession into the EU. As a consequence, human rights organizations such as the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly are recognized as credible by the state elite, which courts them “enthusiastically” for their viewpoints and expertise.51 Moreover, it is important that in various conferences, publications, etc. that the human rights project have a Turkish face—represented by a Turkish NGO—was opposed to be a European project, which, for many, becomes little more than a patronizing lecture on morality by outsiders. The common thread of meeting the EU criteria have also helped link together often disparate (liberal, secular, Kurdish, religious, Kemalist) elements in Turkish civil society, whose diversity, Simsek argued, had in the past inhibited its effectiveness.52 Lastly, it bears mention that EU lobbying encouraged the more liberal 2004 Law on Associations, which, among other items, reduces the possibility of state interference in NGO activities, removes restrictions on contact with foreign NGOs, and allows NGOs to work with more overtly political organizations. In this sense, Turkish NGOs have been an “object” (not just an actor) in the reform process, and there is little doubt that a more permissive environment should enhance their position as the reform project continues.

Political Culture

Parallel with the caricature of Turkish civil society, many assumed that Turkish political culture was a reflection of the Kemalist state: nationalistic and authoritarian, with a preference for order over broadening individual rights. By the late 1990s, however, survey research would show that although on some measures (e.g. inter-personal trust, preference for order over freedom) Turks scored “low,” there was broader acceptance that democracy was desirable and a majority of Turks rejected the idea that rule by the military or a strong leader that would not have to bother with parliament or elections would be desirable.53 True, these questions did not get into specifics about what democratization would mean in the Turkish context, but, at least in the abstract, one could point to the presence of a basic, diffuse support for democracy among Turks.

Obviously, since 1999 democratization has risen to the forefront of the country’s political agenda. Many issues that were previously not discussed or considered out of bounds politically have been in recent years staples in the Turkish media. What has been the public’s reaction? Do Turks support the broad swathe of demands (e.g. rights for minorities, greater freedom of expression, abolition of the death penalty) put forward by the EU as a prerequisite for accession? Are EU conditions tapping into demands ‘from below’? Is it accurate, as one study argues, that the recent reforms in Turkey are a “natural outcome of public support for further democratization?”54

A national survey conducted in May and June 2002 sheds interesting light on these questions. This survey was designed to probe attitudes toward the EU and EU demands on the Turkish government.55 In general, Turks seem positively disposed toward the prospect of membership, with strong majority of Turks (64%) backing EU membership, and 58% expecting their lives to improve as a result of EU membership. Interestingly, however, Turks exhibit the lowest level of knowledge about the EU of any (then)candidate country, and a majority (58%) knew nothing about the Copenhagen Criteria.

As for political reforms, the survey found that, in the abstract, Turks approved of a number of basic democratic rights and for rights for ethnic minorities. Data are displayed in Table 1. More interesting, however, is the fact that Turks exhibited more lukewarm feelings on many of the political reforms that have actually been adopted. Data for these are displayed in Table 2. In particular, one seeks that a plurality of respondents were against reforms to give greater rights to non-Turkish (read: Kurdish) speakers and a majority were against abolition of the death penalty. Further questions, noted on Table 2, reveal that a majority of Turks would refuse to endorse these reforms, even if it would cost Turkey EU membership.

How does one interpret these findings? One explanation may be that while there is general support for democracy and rights in the abstract, when respondents are given a context that relates to controversial reform projects in Turkey, there is less enthusiasm for reforms. In part, one could suggest, this reflects the above-mentioned preference for order over freedom, and that Turks are less supportive of democracy and minority rights when they recognize the possible trade-offs involving in political liberalization. Second, one could argue that the questions in Table 2 tap into Turkish national feeling, particularly the oft-mentioned Sevres syndrome,56 and that Turks are thus reluctant to “follow orders” of Brussels as this raises, mentally if nothing else perhaps, the “costs of compliance.” The three questions at the bottom of the table—which squarely indicate what conditionality means in practice—are particularly revealing, and provide reason for skepticism that Turks are wholeheartedly pro-EU. In addition, it should give pause to those who claim that many aspects of the reform programs tap into a consensus at the mass level for reform, especially on the most sensitive issues in Turkish politics. In other words, there is little to suggest some of the most basic reforms demanded by Europe—and this would include provisions for the Kurdish language, as minority rights are integral to the Copenhagen Criteria—are driven ‘from below.’ Without pressure from the outside, it is highly doubtful that such reforms would have been adopted.

However, the most important point, perhaps, is that they have been adopted despite lack of support from the mass public. One might suggest that this re-affirms what Schimmelfennig et al noted, that Turkish society is fundamentally weak.57 While one might be tempted to argue that this means that reforms will not be consolidated or could possibly be repealed, the fact that the AKP overwhelmingly won in local elections in 2004, retains high support among the public at-large, and that there are no serious calls for Turkey to pull out of the accession process, suggests that the broader public is at least resigned to the fact that the reforms are in place. Moreover, one should mention that the survey reveals that most Turks (52%) see EU membership as a means for economic development and 30% list freedom to travel in Europe as plus of EU membership, whereas only 28% mentioned a stronger democracy as a positive of EU membership. Put differently, the materialist incentives provided by the EU may ultimately convince Turks that the political reforms are worth the “cost.”

Table 1 Support for Rights in Abstract

Q: Should the rights and freedoms listed below exist under any circumstances and

at all times or could some these be restricted at times depending on the circumstances?

Exist at all times

Can be restricted

Right to equal treatment under the law



Freedom of conscience and religion



Freedom of correspondence and communication



Right not to be tortured



Freedom of expression



Right to use one’s native language



Source: TESEV Survey, 2002.

Table 2 Support for EU’s Democratization Program

Q: To what extent do you approve of the following adjustments necessary for

Turkey’s accession to the EU?

Not Approve



Establish conditions for freedom of thought and expression




Establish conditions for freedom of conscience and religion




Decrease the role of the military in Turkish politics




Abolish laws which prevent broadcasting in one’s native language




Abolish laws which prevent receiving education in one’s native language




Abolish the death penalty




If the only condition to join EU was to abolish restrictions on broadcasting in one’s native language (% of Kurdish speakers)







If the only condition to join EU was to abolish restrictions on education in one’s native language (% Kurdish speakers)







If the only condition to join EU was to replace death penalty with aggravated life imprisonment




Source: TESEV Survey, 2002.


How should one evaluate the role of forces “from below” in this reform process, particularly given the very visible role of the EU? Should one agree with Tocci, who argues that it has been a “process of change largely driven by endogenous factors?”58 Certainly, debates over reform in Turkey do pre-date the Helsinki decision, and the rise of the pro-EU AKP (and the defeat of the anti-EU MHP) has created a domestic constellation of forces more conducive to reform. This electoral outcome, of course, is directly attributable to Turkish voters, not the EU, and, as the experience with Central and East European “reluctant democratizers” shows, the EU is not powerful by itself to remove the most recalcitrant elites or to help them to “learn” to be good democrats.59

However, the EU is a central—even towering—figure in the Turkish reform process. The timing of the reforms—as well as their content—speaks to the power of the EU as a “trigger” for the reforms. Again, the fact that so many reforms that in the mid-1990s were deemed imprudent, impolitic, or dangerous have been adopted so quickly in the midst of a sea-change in Turkish politics—one-third of the constitution has been amended—indicates that something has dramatically changed the calculation of the Turkish decision-makers. With all due respect to actors in Turkish civil society, we are not witnessing a revolution “from below.” Two Turkish civil society activists concede that prior to 1999 the work of civil society groups failed to produce “concrete results.” It would be, in their view, the “political discipline provided by the EU prospect” that has changed the social and political dynamic to the benefit of pro-reform civil society groups, whose agenda has enjoyed much more success since 1999.60

The issue of criminalizing adultery—which was proposed by the government in August 2004—is particularly instructive. Despite the past efforts of the aforementioned Womens’ Coalition and other groups, the AKP government—perhaps to satisfy a culturally conservative constituency—advanced this proposal in the new Penal Code, perhaps thinking that it would escape European scrutiny. Europe did object, however, questioning if Erdogan had truly shed his Islamist past. Turkey’s European bid hung in the balance, and the Turkish National Assembly, under EU pressure, hastily passed a Penal Code without the adultery measure, prompting some to conclude that Ankara had succumbed to EU diktat.

This is not to say that Turkish civil society has been irrelevant. A “pincer” has been created, in which external and internal actors have formed an alliance to put pressure on the Turkish government to make liberal and democratic reforms. The fact that this alliance has a capable Turkish component is important to give the reforms greater legitimacy. Moreover, the fact that Turkish domestic debates revolve around the EU and that there is both elite and mass consensus on the desirability of membership may help see through the reform consolidation, provided that the prospect of membership remains on the table.61 However, the fact that the EU has been so intimately involved in the reform process at the inter-governmental level and that Turks appear to be so focused on satisfying Europe—as opposed to launching an independent reform course—leads one to question, at least now, the depth of the commitment to reform. This is not to say all is lost. The modal transition may be that of instrumental adaptation to norms and gradual internalization as they become legally codified and part of the “normal” routine.62 The task now—for both the EU and pro-reform Turkish civil society—is to help see the project through to its complete implementation.


1 Perhaps the most notorious objection was that of former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who claimed that Turkish entry into the EU would be ‘the end of Europe.’ (Le Monde, 8 November 2002). For extended discussion of issues surrounding Turkish entry into the EU, see Ali Çarkoğlu and Barry Rubin, eds., Turkey and the European Union (London: Frank Cass, 2003). See also articles appearing in a special issue of Perceptions (Journal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), November 2004.

2 Gamze Avci, “Turkey’s EU Politics: What Justifies Reforms?” in Helene Sjursen, ed. Enlargement in Perspective (Oslo: ARENA Report No. 2, 2005), p. 141.

3 Ziya Onis, “Domestic Politics, International Norms, and Challenges to the State: Turkey-EU Relations in the post-Helsinki Era,” in Rubin and Çarkoğlu, 2003, p. 13.

4 For comparative looks at recent EU efforts to promote democracy that include Turkey, see Paul Kubicek, ed. The European Union and Democratization (London: Routledge, 2003), and Frank Schimmelfennig, Stefan Engert, and Heiko Knobel, “Costs, Commitment and Compliance: The Impact of EU Democratic Conditionality on Latvia, Slovakia and Turkey,’ Journal of Common Market Studies 41:4, 2003: 495-517.

5 Turkish Daily News, 27 September 2004.

6 Cüneyt Ülsever, “What kind of country do we want?” Turkish Daily News 18 July 2000, p. 6.

7 Frank Schimmelfennig, “Introduction: The Impact of International Organizations on the Central and Eastern Europe States—Conceptual and Theoretical Issues,” in Ronald Linden, ed. Norms and Nannies (Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002).

8 The classic text is Philippe Schmitter et al, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1986).

9 See Geoffrey Pridham et al, Building Democracy? The International Dimension of Democratization in Eastern Europe (London: Leicester University Press, 1994); Jan Zielonka and Alex Pravda, eds, Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe, Volume 2: International and Transnational Factors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); and Milada Vachudova, Europe Undivided: Democracy, Leverage, and Integration After Communism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

10 Laurence Whitehead, “The Enlargement of the European Union: A ‘Risky’ Form of Democracy Promotion,” in Whitehead, ed., The International Dimensions of Democratization, expanded edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 415, and Jeffrey Kopstein and David Reilly, “Geographic Diffusion and the Transformation of the Postcommunist World,” World Politics 53:1, October 2000, p. 25.

11 Nathalie Tocci, “Europeanization in Turkey: Trigger or Anchor for Reform,” South European Society and Politics 10:1, March 2005: 71-81.

12 Kubicek, 2003, and Schimmelfennig et al, 2003. One key in both studies was the strength of democratic forces within a society. If they were strong, the costs of non-compliance with EU demands is higher for political elites. If they were weak, elites had less incentive to comply with outside pressure.

13 Thomas Risse and Kathryn Sikkink, “The Socialization of International Human Rights Norms into Domestic Practices: Introduction,” in T. Risse, S. Ropp, and K. Sikkink (eds) The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) and Vachudova, 2004. One of the best empirical studies involves EU ties to political parties in Slovakia. See Geoffrey Pridham, “Complying with the European Union’s Democratic Conditionality: Transnational Party Linkages and Regime Change in Slovakia, 1993-1998,” Europe-Asia Studies 51:7, 1999: 1221-1244. The validity of these claims—that transnational networks are crucial in supporting conditionality—is not supported by all observers. See Schimmelfennig et al, 2003.

14 As Sefa Simsek notes, the literature on civil society assumes that groups in civil society will be democratic and/or liberal in outlook, which may not be the case. While this is true—and Turkey has a number of prominent organizations that exhibit hostility to democracy and the EU—my focus will be on groups that are inclined to push for liberalization and democratization. See Sefa Simsek, “The Transformation of Civil Society in Turkey: From Quantity to Quality,” Turkish Studies 5:3, Autumn 2004: 46-74.

15 Jeffrey Checkel, “Norms, Institutions, and National Identity in Contemporary Europe,” International Studies Quarterly 43, 1999: 83-144.

16 Final Report: Evaluation of the PHARE and TACIS Democracy Programme, 1992-1997, prepared by ISA Consult, Sussex Universtiy European Institute, cited in Karen Smith, “Western Actors and the Promotion of the Democracy,” in Zielonka and Pravda, 2001, p. 50.

17 Schimmelfennig, 2002, p. 13.

18 For extended discussion of the notion of “logic of appropriateness,” see E. O. Eriksen, “Towards a Logic of Justification: On the Possibility of Post-National Solidarity,” in M. Egeberg and P. Laegreid (eds) Organizing Political Institutions: Essays for Johan P. Olsen (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1999).

19 Thomas Diez, Apostolus Agnantopoulos, and Alper Kaliber, “Turkey, Europeanization, and Civil Society,” South European Society and Politics 10:1, March 2005:

20 European Union reports on Turkey can be found at For works that discuss human rights issues in Turkey, see William Hale, “Human Rights, The European Union, and the Turkish Accession Process,” in Çarkoğlu and Rubin, 2003, and Thomas W. Smith, “The politics of conditionality: the European Union and human rights reform in Turkey,” in Kubicek, 2003.

21 Avci, 2005, p. 133.

22 Quoted in Paul Kubicek, “The Earthquake, Civil Society, and Political Change in Turkey: Assessment and Comparison with Eastern Europe,” Political Studies 50:4, September 2002, p. 774.

23 Ziya Onis, “Luxembourg, Helsinki, and beyond: towards an interpretation of recent Turkey-EU relations,” Government and Opposition 35:4, 2000: 463-483.

24 For sources that document the various reforms in Turkey, see Çarkoğlu and Rubin, 2003, Avci, 2005, and Ergum Ozbudun and Serap Yazici, Democratization Reforms in Turkey (1993-2004) (Istanbul: TESEV, 2004).

25 Ozbudun and Yazici, 2004, p. 14.

26 Avci, 2005, pp. 142-143.

27 Bulent Tanor, Perspectives on Democratisation in Turkey (Istanbul: TUSIAD, 1997).

28 Avci notes that in 1998 62% of respondents in a survey were favorable to the EU; by 2002, it was 64% and by May 2003 the figure was 72%. Avci, 2005, p. 134.

29 Ernst Haas, When Knowledge is Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 3.

30 See Metin Heper, The State Tradition in Turkey (London: Eothen Press, 1985), and Robert Bianchi, Interest Groups and Political Development in Turkey (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

31 Ziya Onis and Umut Turem, “Entrepreneurs, Democracy, and Ctiizenship in Turkey,” Comparative Politics 35:4, 2002: 439-456.

32 For more on developments in the early 1990s, see Nilufer Gole, “Toward an Autonomisation of Politics and Civil Society in Turkey,” in Metin Heper and Ahmet Evin, eds. Politics in the Third Turkish Republic (Boulder: Westview, 1994).

33 Simsek, 2004, p.48.

34 Ersin Kalaycioglu, “Good Governance and Human Development in Turkey,” in Human Development Report: Turky 1998 (Ankara: UNDP, 1998).

35 Sedat Engin of the Turkish daily Hurriyet, quoted in Washington Post, 29 August 1999. For a volume that features discussion with many civil society leaders after the earthquake, see Sivil Toplum Kuruluslari ve Yasalar-Etik-Deprem (Istanbul: Tarih Vakfi, 2000).

36 Kubicek, 2002, and Hande Paker, Social Aftershocks: Rent-Seeking, State Failure, and State-Civil Society Relations in Turkey (Doctoral Dissertation, McGill University, Department of Sociology, 2004).

37 This is the language used in Ziya Öniş, “Diverse but Converging Paths to EU Membership: Poland and Turkey in Comparative Perspective,” East European Politics and Societies 2004: 481-512.

38 Ana Lundgren, “Priorisations in the enlargement process: Are some candidates more ‘European’ than others,” in Helene Sjursen, ed. Enlargement in Perspective (Oslo: ARENA Report no. 2/05, 2005).

39 All from website of Representation of the European Commission to Turkey, at

40 Diba Nigar Goksel and Rana Birden Gunes, “The Role of NGOs in the European Integration Process—The Turkish Experience,” South European Society and Politics 10:1, March 2005:

41 See website of the IKV, which is full of information on its projects directed toward the EU, at

42 Simsek, 2004, p. 46.

43 Anecdotally, one might add that even many NGOs that gain attention in the Turkish media, even those in Istanbul, often have rather shabby spartan offices (some, like TUSIAD, would be an exception). In interviews conducted for another project a few years ago, one was struck how many NGOs appeared to a little more than an office worker or two, a phone, computer, and fax machine.

44 This initiative grew out of Turkish-Greek cooperation after earthquakes in both countries in 1999 and 2000. To date, 19 projects are being implemented in several areas (e.g. youth, gender, culture, environment), and some credit these projects with helping win Athens’s support for Turkish EU membership bid. See Bahar Rumelili, South European Society and Politics 10:1, March 2005:

45 EU-Funded Programmes in Turkey 2003-2004 (Ankara: EU Delegation in Turkey, 2003). Available at

46 Report from CSDP from July 1 2004, on-line at

47 EU-Funded Programmes, 2003.

48 Goksel and Gunes, 2005.

49 “’Radical’ shift in Turkey’s judiciary,” Christian Science Monitor 2 June 2004, p. 6.

50 Goksel and Gunes, 2005.

51 Goksel and Gunes, 2005. They add, however, that the AKP government practices subtle discrimination among NGOs, being more solicitous of those groups with which it shares ideological or political affinity.

52 Simsek, 2004.Goksel and Gunes, 2005, however, note that competition among Turkish actors for outside funding has at times become a “destructive reality.”

53 Data from the 1997 World Values Survey conducted in Turkey and available at Among other items, the survey reveals that 81% think military rule would be bad, 86.5% consider democracy to be a good form of rule, and only 34.8% indicate that a strong leader not accountable to parliament or the electorate would be a good idea. More disturbing, perhaps, when given a choice between a priority on order or on freedom, 76.2% chose order.

54 Serif Sayan of TESEV in Preface to Ozbugun and Yazici, 2004.

55 This survey had 3060 respondents and the sample was designed to be nationally-representative. It was supported by the Turkish Economic and Social Science Foundation (TESEV). The report of this survey, upon which I draw in the ensuing discussion, is Ali Carkoglu et al, “Turkish Public Opinion on Membership to the EU,” available at See also Ali Çarkoğlu, “Who Wants Full Membership? Characteristics of Public Opinion Support for EU Membership in Turkey,” in Rubin and Çarkoğlu, 2003, pp. 171-194.

56 This refers to the 1920 Treaty of Sevres (later superceded by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne) between western powers and Turkey, which Turks viewed with suspicion as Westerners backed Greece and rights for ethnic minorities, thereby (in this view) continuing the goal of dismembering the Ottoman Empire.

57 Schimmelfennig et al, 2003.

58 Tocci, 2005, p. 80.

59 Kubicek, 2003.

60 Goksel and Gunes, 2005.

61 This is, of course, a larger topic, but negative developments—such as the Austrians and the French proposing referendums on Turkish membership, putting another hurdle on the path to Turkish membership and treating Turkey far differently than those states in the 2004 expansion, do not augur well.

62 Eriksen, 1999.

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