‘Democracy, Identity and Foreign Policy and Turkey’s Inaugural Presidential Election’

CEFTUS Westminster Debate

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Committee Room 12, House of Commons

Keynote speakers: Professor Fuat Keyman of Sabanci University and Dr Natalie Martin of De Montfort University.

Chair: Dr Alev Adil of the University of Greenwich

This CEFTUS debate was kindly hosted by Anas Sarwar MP for Glasgow Central.


Professor Fuat Keyman and Dr Natalie analysed politics in Turkey in the context of the upcoming presidential election in August and Turkey-EU relations.

Pointing out that the democratisation of Turkey has only been partial, Prof Keyman described Turkey as an authoritarian democracy. He conceptualised the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a ‘dominant party’. The AKP has repeatedly won the elections since 2002. Keyman argued that Turkey does not have strong checks and balances to challenge this party and that the opposition is too weak and fragmented. Hence, he added, opposition parties need to learn how to win and to regain the faith of their supporters. Besides, Turkish civil society must be more effective. Keyman suggested that the society is divided between three major identities that do not trust each other: the secular, educated, middle class; the conservative, religious AKP supporters; and the Kurdish people. Turkish society lacks of general trust between these different identities. Turkish citizens tend to remain loyal to their party, their voting behaviour rarely change. Erdogan’s strategy of systematically further polarising Turkish society has proved very effective.

Prof Keyman stated that Erdogan is a successful political leader, who has every chance to be elected as the next President. The question then, instead of who the next President will be, is rather what kind of President he will be. Erdogan has not hidden its ambition to shift from a parliamentary to a semi- or presidential system. To do so, he will, however, need a certain amount of support in the Parliament to get a constitutional mandate. There might be dissensions within the AKP about this issue, some of AKP deputies being in favour of parliamentary system. Professor Keyman has deemed a strong presidential system as detrimental to Turkey and has wished for a better functioning parliamentary system instead. He argued that the search for absolute stability sometimes turns into a source of instability. Turkish politics need to be less polarised and more inclusive.

Dr Natalie Martin analysed Turkey-EU relations in her speech. She stated that the identity of the EU as a normative power has been of great influence over its relation with Turkey. The quality of this relation has depended on the will of the Turkish government to implement reforms in adequacy with EU standards. Accordingly, she said, Turkey-EU relations have improved in the years of 2002 and 2004, but the accession process slowed down in 2006-2007. Dr Martin pointed out that this was not only due to a slowdown of reforms, but also due to the Cyprus issue, and the public position of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy against the accession of Turkey, in favour of a privileged partnership instead.

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Dr Martin argued that Turkey is, however, a valuable geostrategic asset for the EU in areas of migration, drug trafficking and relations with the Middle East. The ‘Arab Spring’ has pushed the EU to regain interest towards Turkey. It was the chance for Turkey to restart the accession process, but Turkey itself has lost interest in the EU. Erdogan does not necessarily wish to see Turkey’s performances assessed by the EU through the opening of new chapters.

Dr Martin suggested that EU officials were horrified by what happened during Gezi Park demonstrations in June 2013. Yet, critics were not very harsh, she said, because the EU needed to keep Turkey on its side to handle the Arab spring. This shows that the normative power of the EU has its limits, and that the EU is also a geostrategic actor. Still, Dr Martin argued that, the EU needs to see Turkey move forward to a more liberal democracy to envisage any further rapprochement. A more realistic objective for both Turkey and the EU would be a trade agreement rather than a full membership.