Insight Turkey 3rd Annual Conference

Insight Turkey 3rd Annual Conference 

Third annual conference of Insight Turkey titled ‘‘Europe and Turkey: drifting apart?’’ was held in European Parliament, Brussels with the participation of scholars and experts. The first conference, titled “Debating New Turkey” was held in Washington DC, and the second conference, titled “The Middle East After the Revolution: Arab and Turkish Insights” was held in Cairo.

Editor in Chief, Ihsan Dagi, in his opening speech questioned the common assumption that democratization in Turkey was a direct outcome of the EU conditionality by pointing towards the recent peace negotiations with the PKK and stunning economic performanse of the country that have taken place without any clear EU membership prospect.  

Justice Minister Ergin: ‘‘EU should not move away from its original values and principles’’

Following Daği’s opening remarks, Turkey’s Minister of Justice, Sadullah Ergin, took the floor and gave a detailed account of the background of Turkey-EU relations and the judicial reforms that Turkey has conducted in its EU accession process. Ergin highlighted that Turkey’s commitment to the EU process is as strong as ever. However current EU philosophy is in conflict with Victor Hugo’s definition of Europe based on open ideas and free market. Ergin continued that opposition to Turkey’s EU membership on cultural, civilizational and historical grounds is in contraction with Hugo’s imagination of Europe. This current approach, held Ergin, not only pushes Turkey away, but also moves the EU away from its original principles and values.

Ergin commented that the progress in the fields of democratization, economy and foreign policy over the last decade has made Turkey more influential, democratic and prosperous in the region. Ergin gave a brief account of judicial reforms that have been conducted under AK party governments. Individual access to the constitutional court, establishment of Ombudsman mechanism, improvement of freedom of expression, adoption of the third judicial reform package, presentation of the fourth judicial reform package to the Assembly and etc. are just some of the judicial reforms that his government has carried out. Ergin stressed that Turkey has conducted these reforms without clear EU membership prospect, which, in his opinion, is an indication that the country is still highly committed to bring its political, legal, economic and social systems up to the European standards.

Perception of the EU in Turkey from 2003 to 2012

Second panel of the conference ‘‘Turkey and Europe: Time to decide’’ was held right after Minister’s speech. The moderator of the panel Amanda Paul from European Policy Center, underlined that it is early to see whether work on the fourth judicial reform, recent developments with respect to the Kurdish issue, France’s willingness to open a new chapter, Merkel’s recent softening on Turkey’s EU accession would revive Turkey-EU relations.

Thomas Diez, in the same panel, stated that association of Turkey’s membership with anti-Islam overtones at public level is one of the factors that affects European politicians’ stance on Turkey’s EU membership. Diez added that the recent softening of Germany’s rhetoric on Turkey’s membership has a lot to do with upcoming general elections in Germany where all parties are courting the votes of the Turkish community.

Following Diez’s presentation, Hakan Yılmaz, presented the findings of public opinion surveys on Turkish public opinion on EU that were conducted in 2002 and 2012. Yılmaz’s findings point that the knowledge of the EU did not increase in Turkey over the last decade. On the contrary, worries and doubts with regard to the EU putting cultural challenge to moral values of Turkey increased. Positive feeling and general support for Turkey’s membership decreased.

Kemal Kirişçi, on the other hand, talked about the trade dynamics of the relations between Turkey and the EU. Although the total trade volume with the EU has increased over the years, stated Kirişçi, EU’s share in Turkey’s foreign trade has declined in recent years mainly due to the increase in country’s foreign trade with the immediate neighborhood. Diversification of Turkey’s foreign trade does not mean, however, Turkey is turning away from the EU. Foreign direct investment coming from the EU and the USA is more qualified compared to the one coming from the Gulf states. While the foreign investments from the West goes to production and service sectors, money that comes from the Gulf region goes to non-productive sectors such as real estate sector. In Kirişçi’s analysis, trade trends demonstrate that Turkey’s EU integration goes hand in hand with the country’s greater integration with neighbors.

Turkey and Europe in the Post Arab Spring Middle East: Still Partners?

The third panel of the conference ‘‘Turkey and Europe in the Post Arab Spring Middle East: Still Partners?’’ started with Taha Özhan’s presentation. Özhan, from SETA Foundation, gave an account of Turkey’s post-Arab Spring regional policy. The last decade in Turkey has witnessed transformations in several areas, laying the ground for discussions summarized as New Turkey, and has become a successful example of transition from an old order to a new one. On the domestic front, Turkey has accomplished significant improvements with regard to democratization. On the international front, Turkey has become more capable of taking independent initiatives, redefining its relations with the Arab world, making important contributions to the regional peace. The popular uprisings that have swept the Middle East urged Turkey to side with democratic demands against autocratic leaders. Özhan noted that Turkey has been sophisticated in its attempt to navigate regimes and popular demands in the region.

Mensur Akgün, on the other hand, spoke of the perceptions of Turkey in the Middle East, yearly public opinion survey conducted by TESEV. Akgün stressed that despite some decline, Turkey’s general perception in the region in 2012 has not changed dramatically in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Only in Iran and Syria there are is some downfall in Turkey’s popularity, which in turn affected country’s overall perception in the region. However despite this, Turkey has outdone Saudi Arabia and become the first country with the most favorable opinion of the region.

Jaffrey Haynes, in return, discussed European foreign policy towards the region. Arab Spring urged the EU to redefine its economy oriented and security-based Middle Eastern policy. In that sense, popular revolts created opportunity for the EU to change its negative image in the region. However swamped in internal crisis, it is yet to see how much of the change in EU leaders’ rhetoric would reflect to the policy plans and programs.