Author: Jannike Riesch (Charles University, Prague)
On November 24th of 2016, with a considerable majority of 479 to 37 votes (and 107 abstentions), the European Parliament (EP) approved a resolution to “[f]reeze EU accession talks with Turkey until it halts repression”. Although such a resolution voted on by the EP is not legally binding, it is of a high symbolic value and could thus have substantial political consequences. Since the failed coup d’état in Turkey in July, the Turkish government implemented a variety of measures that included the dismissal, suspension and even imprisonment of tens of thousands of public servants and soldiers; repressions that, according to the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), “violate basic rights and freedoms protected by the Turkish Constitution” and ultimately led them to vote against further pursuing membership negotiations. Others, including both Turkish and European Politicians, are concerned that such a vote might put even more strain on the already stressed ties between the European Union (EU) and Turkey. Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, warned of rising tensions and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, stated that halting accession talks would shut down a vital channel of dialogue and thus would constitute a “lose-lose scenario”. However, it is also claimed that the membership talks with Turkey are “fundamentally dishonest” and that “[n]either Turkey nor EU members are actually interested in the success of negotiations.”
How did this happen, after more than a decade of official membership negotiations? Within this essay, I will focus on the question of why political conditionality, generally considered one of the EU’s most efficient democracy promotion instruments, seems to have failed in Turkey. Therefore, I will first look at theories of political conditionality, then evaluate its effectiveness in Turkey, and lastly, in the concluding remarks, consider what implications the findings might have for the future of Turkey’s democracy.
The Concept of Political Conditionality
As democracy constitutes one of the core values within the self-conception of the European Union, its promotion is of fundamental importance within the EU’s foreign policy. Democracy promotion can be broadly defined as “the processes by which an external actor intervenes to install or assist in the institution of democratic government in a target state”. These processes can consist of a variety of different actions and strategies that can range from peaceful to forceful measures.
Ever since its foundation, the very nature of the European Union (or until 1992 the European Community) as a politico-economic entity founded by six member states and currently consisting of 28 member states but possibly accepting more, made it particularly suitable to use one specific democracy promotion instrument: political conditionality, especially in terms of membership. In order to be able to enjoy the benefits the European Union is able to provide, potential member states have to fulfill certain pre-conditions. The Presidency Conclusions of the Copenhagen summit in 1993, nowadays known as the Copenhagen criteria, address these pre-conditions by stating that membership “requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”.
Political conditionality represents a strategy within the toolbox of democracy promotion that Svea Koch defines as “a mechanism through which states and international institutions aim at influencing the behavior of other states by using material incentives”. And although there is no consensual definition within the literature, most scholars seem to be of the same opinion regarding the two dimensions political conditionality entails: ex-ante and ex-post conditionality (conditions set up as pre-requisites/conditions set up during the course of a relationship) and positive/negative conditionality (granting of benefits/reducing, suspending or terminating benefits). The European Union’s enlargement strategy poses an example of positive ex-ante conditionality that boosted democracies in Central and Eastern Europe during the 1990s. The pure desirability of EU membership appears to have encouraged accession candidates to push democratic reforms and adhere to conditions set up by the EU.
While these successes might seem to make the effectivity of political conditionality as a democratization strategy “self-evident”, the question remains as to why political conditionality seems to have failed in Turkey. A variety of scholars identified three criteria as crucial for the succeeding of political conditionality: 1) a positive cost-benefit balance, 2) credibility and 3) consistency. This means that in order for political conditionality to work, the reward received for adapting specific measures has to be bigger than the cost of these adjustments (1), that threats and promises connected to conditionality have to be credible (2), and that the demands and rules that have to be fulfilled and followed are clear, determinable and unambiguous (3).
Political Conditionality in the Case of Turkey
Turkey applied to become a member of the European Union’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, already in April 1987 but was denied the official candidacy status in 1989 and 1997 due to economic and democratic reasons as well as concerns regarding human rights. It was not until 1999 that Turkey was officially recognized as a candidate for full membership. However, membership negotiations did not start until another 11 years later in October 2005. In the following, I will look at the effectiveness of political conditionality in Turkey during two periods: 1999 to 2005 and 2005 to today.
1999 to 2005: The time period between 1999 and 2005 is seen to be one of the best examples of how effective political conditionality as a democratization strategy can be. The decision to consider Turkey as a possible member of the EU in 1999 produced a “political avalanche of democratization” and makes Paul Kubicek talk of the “golden age” of reforms in Turkey. Within a variety of different reforms the situation of human rights was highly improved, for instance by abolishing the death penalty, expanding the freedom of expression or releasing political prisoners. At the same time, Turkey made big steps towards democratization by curtailing the power of the military. According to Ergun Özbudun, the reforms that were implemented in these years had an enormous impact on the fundamental political environment in Turkey by liquidating “a very large part of the semi-authoritarian legacy” of the country. By the end of 2004, the European Council recognized that Turkey had sufficiently fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria in order to start actual membership negotiations.
When looking at the developments in these years closely, it seems as if within this period, all three criteria seen as crucial for the efficient use of political conditionality have been fulfilled. Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeier argue that membership composes the strongest reward the European Union has to offer and that it is a lot more appealing than the promise of association or assistance. By officially recognizing Turkey as a candidate for membership, the potential benefits of eventually becoming a member state of the EU became tangible and perceived benefits were able to outweigh the costs of reforms. Also, with finally accepting Turkey as a candidate for full EU membership, the EU’s aspiration to make Turkey a member of the European Union was credible since it has denied candidacy status twice before and now finally opened the doors for further developments. In terms of consistency, there was a clear reward held out in prospect (actual membership negotiations) and a clear demand of what had to be achieved in order to get this reward (sufficient fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria).
2005 to 2016: During the last decade, democratic reforms in Turkey have slowed down. Particularly the recent developments are concerning as they seem to make Turkey turn its back on democracy and pave its way into authoritarianism. Despite increasing criticism from abroad, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues his authoritarian course of action. He tries to silence the opposition as well as the last remaining critical journalists through mass arrests and, on a legal level, pushes constitutional reforms that expand his authorities to exert power.
After the opening of accession talks in 2005, which can be seen as the heyday of EU-Turkey relations, several developments weakened the EU’s political conditionality strategy, particularly in terms of credibility and consistency. This is not to say that the EU’s ineffective conditionality strategy can be held responsible for recent developments in Turkey. However, that Turks more and more began to “sour both on the EU and on Turkey’s accession prospects” during the last decade definitely did not help supporting its democratic aspirations. In fact, when looking at the three criteria for a successful conditionality strategy again, a variety of problems becomes obvious.
Although the reward – accession to the European Union – basically remained the same, Turkey’s membership prospects became less tangible “as a result of the emphasis on the open endedness of the negotiations”. Credibility became a big problem as important member states, namely Germany, France and Austria, openly and repeatedly opposed to full membership of Turkey, even in case they were to meet all the Copenhagen criteria. These developments provoked doubts in Turkey concerning the actual membership prospect and questions regarding the EU’s credibility as well as sincerity, and with that even called into question the desirability of EU membership itself. Moreover, problems arose concerning consistency and clarity of the EU’s demands. Turkey still had a long way of reforms ahead in order to actually become a member and, as Kubicek puts it, through the EU Progress Reports in the 2000s, “one can get the impression that each year, the EU adds more and more to the Turks’ to-do list”. Furthermore, the criteria – stable institutions being able to guarantee amongst others democracy and the rule of law – seemed to be arranged to fit whatever the EU wants to do as they are open to different interpretations. How strong must democracy and the rule of law be in order for Turkey to be granted membership? How are these criteria even measurable? Without clear margins, the criteria are hardly realizable.
Concluding Remarks: The Prospect of Turkish Democracy
In the wake of the European Parliament’s vote in November, on the 13th of December the European Council unanimously decided that “under the currently prevailing consequences” they would not open new chapters in the membership negotiations with Turkey. With this decision, the Council did not utterly follow the EP’s vote to completely freeze EU accession talks with Turkey, while at the same time it is not promoting them any further. With that, the heads of the member states of the EU are trying to maneuver around the political dilemma they’re facing: On the one hand, as Erdoğan is highly unpopular in Europe and politicians in France, Germany and the Netherlands are facing elections next year, they do not want to indulge him. Also, they are scared that Erdoğan might carry out his threats about breaking up the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal. On the other hand, things like the potential reinstatement of the death penalty pose red lines for the European Union. Turkey’s path toward autocratic rule makes advancing sincere membership negotiations impossible.
As pointed out throughout essay, three elements have proven crucial for successful political conditionality: 1) a positive cost-benefit calculation, 2) credibility and 3) consistency. In the first analyzed time period from Turkey’s recognition as an official candidate in 1999 to the actual beginning of accession negotiations in 2005, political conditionality seemed to be highly effective. Since 2005 though, the progress slowed down and more or less completely stalled in 2016. Whereas political conditionality as a means of democracy promotion has boosted democracies in Central and Eastern European countries in the 1990s, the lack of credibility of the EU’s intentions as well as the lack of and consistency concerning rules and demands led Turkey to turn away from the EU and potential accession prospects. Furthermore, now that it looks like a potential Turkish EU membership receded into the distance, Turkish democracy will no longer be able to benefit from the pressure to enact reforms that stems from political conditionality. If Turkey continues its authoritarian course, the EU might eventually end negotiations for good which could have even worse implications for the future of Turkey’s democracy.
Coskun, Murat n. d.: Testing the Theories on Conditionality Strategy of the EU: Turkish Political Reforms as a Case Study, https://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.178612!/file/ Colloqium_Paper_Murat_Coskun.pdf; 28.12.2016.
Dipama, Samiratou/Parlar Dal, Emel 2015: The Effectiveness of Political Conditionality as an Instrument of Democracy Promotion by the EU: Case Studies of Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Niger, in: Perceptions XX:1, pp. 109-132.
European Council 1993: Presidency Conclusions, Copenhangen European Council – 21-22 June 1993, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/ec/pdf/cop_en.pdf; 28.12.2016.
Koch, Svea 2015: A Typology of Political Conditionality Beyond Aid: Conceptual Horizons Based on Lessons from the European Union, in: World Development 75, pp. 97-108.
Kubicek, Paul 2011: Political conditionality and European Union’s cultivation of democracy in Turkey, in: Democratization 18:4, pp. 910-931.
Schimmelfennig, Frank/Sedelmeier, Ulrich 2004: Governance by conditionality: EU rule transfer to candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in: Journal of European public policy 11:4, pp. 661-679.
 “Freeze EU accession talks with Turkey until it halts repression, urge MEPs”, European Parliament News, 24.11.2016, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20161117IPR51549/freeze-eu-accession-talks-with-turkey-until-it-halts-repression-urge-meps; 28.12.2016.
 “The Scale of Turkey’s Purge Is Nearly Unprecedented”, The New York Times, 2.8.2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/02/world/europe/turkey-purge-erdogan-scale.html; 28.12.16.
 “Freeze EU accession talks with Turkey until it halts repression, urge MEPs”, European Parliament News.
 “Turkey reacts angrily to symbolic EU parliament vote on its membership”, The Guardian, 24.11.16, https:// www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/24/eu-parliament-votes-freeze-membership-talks-turkey; 28.12.16
 Christopher Hobson and Milja Kurki, qtd. in Dipama, Samiratou/Parlar Dal, Emel 2015: The Effectiveness of Political Conditionality as an Instrument of Democracy Promotion by the EU, in: Perceptions XX:1, pp. 112.
 Dipama/Parlar Dal 2015: 112.
 European Council 1993: Presidency Conclusions, Copenhangen European Council – 21-22 June 1993, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/ec/pdf/cop_en.pdf; 28.12.2016.
 Koch, Svea 2015: A Typology of Political Conditionality Beyond Aid: Conceptual Horizons Based on Lessons from the European Union, in: World Development 75, pp. 98.
 Dipama/Parlar Dal 2015: 113.
 Dipama/Parlar Dal 2015: 113.
 Heather Grabbe, qtd. in Kubicek, Paul 2011: Political conditionality and European Union’s cultivation of democracy in Turkey, in: Democratization 18:4, 912.
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 Coskun n. d.
 Kubicek 2011: 914.
 Kubicek 2011: 914.
 Ergun Özbudun, qtd. in: Kubicek 2011: 915.
 Kubicek 2011: 915.
 Schimmelfennig, Frank/Sedelmeier, Ulrich 2004: Governance by conditionality: EU rule transfer to candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in: Journal of European public policy 11:4, pp. 665.
 Kubicek 2011: 918.
 Kubicek 2011: 922.
 Coskun n. d.
 Coskun n. d.
 Kubicek 2011: 922.
 Kubicek 2011: 922.
 “Ankara snubs EU decision to halt accession talks”, Hurriyet Daily News, 15.12.2016, http://www.hurriyet daily news.com/ eu-says-it-wont-expand-turkey-membership-talks .aspx?pageID=517&nID=107271&News CatID=351; 28.12.2016.
 „Turkey’s Impending Estrangement from the West“, Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe, 12.12.2016, http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/66408; 28.12.2016.