When Domestic Meets With International:
The Political Transformation of Turkey, 1997-2004
Engin I. Erdem, Florida International Univ.
Social Science Research Network
This paper examines Turkey’s relations with the European Union from December 1997 to December 2004 to understand the major dynamics behind the recent democratization and human rights reforms in Turkey. For this purpose, the study focuses on three factors: (1) the impact of EU, particularly the Copenhagen conditionality (2) the government structure (coalition vs. majority government) (3) the governing party’s/parties’ commitment level to the EU membership goal. The comparison across three periods of Turkey-EU relations (1997-1999, 1999-2002, 2002-2004) makes it possible to identify the relative significance of each factor for the reforms. In combining the international and domestic origins of Turkey’s political reforms, the paper emphasizes the central importance of the domestic-international linkages for theoretical and policy purposes.
The study uses (comparative) case study method to observe whether the theoretical framework proposed in this paper successfully applies to the cases. A temporal comparison across the three different periods of Turkey-EU relations is expected to show the relative salience of each explanatory factor to understand the development of Turkey’s democratization and human rights reforms. In doing so, the paper looks at how EU conditionality has affected the Turkish political elite (government and parties) in realizing the reforms. In other words, how the Turkish elite have taken EU conditionality into account in handling the reforms. For this purpose, the study uses the statements made by prime ministers, party leaders, and the members of parliament. Also, it draws on the European Council decisions, and the European Commission reports. To measure the explanatory factors and the dependent variable, the following sources will be utilized: the EU harmonization law packages, the adoption of civil and penal code, the constitutional amendments, the establishment of new institutions regarding the EU membership process, the statements by Turkish officials, the Commission reports, the views of Turkish columnists, party programs, government programs, Turkey’s National Program for the adoption of EU acquis, and the Freedom House ratings for civil liberties and political rights.
The analysis of three cases provides strong support for the thesis proposed in this paper. First, the European Union played a significant role in Turkey’s reforms for the period of 1999-2004. The Helsinki European Council decision on Turkey’s candidacy (December 1999) increased the certainty of Turkey-EU relations. In this period, the Copenhagen conditionality as a prerequisite to open the accession negotiations served as a catalyst for the reforms. That posed a sharp contrast to the period of 1997-1999 when the Luxembourg European Council’s exclusion of Turkey from the accession process (December 1997) moved Turkey-EU relations to a historically low position. Therefore, the lack of EU leverage along with the political instability following the 28 February process contributed to the lack of reforms at that time. Moreover, the Copenhagen European Council’s decision to give a conditional date in December 2002 increased the EU’s commitment to Turkey’s prospective membership. Then, the EU had further leverage on the reform process. Thus, the EU’s impact has been significant for 1999-2004, particularly for the period following the Copenhagen Council of December 2002.
Second, the EU’s influence on the democratization and human rights reforms has been contingent on the two domestic factors: the government structure and the governing party’s/parties’ commitment to the EU cause. In this regard, the comparison between the cases of 1999-2002 and 2002-2004 is very helpful. In the first case, Bulent Ecevit’s three-party coalition government (the DSP-MHP-ANAP) undertook a number of important reforms on the path of EU membership. However, these reforms were not sufficient to fulfill the Copenhagen political criteria. Particularly important, the nationalist MHP retarded the reforms, especially concerning the abolition of death penalty and cultural rights for the Kurdish people. On the other hand, the AKP majority government, which has a strong commitment to the EU process, had an impressive reform record. Then, Erdogan’s government succeeded to fulfill the criteria, and launched the accession negotiations.
The difference between the two cases regarding the pace of the reforms supports the argument that the EU’s impact on the candidate countries is not uniform; rather it is very much related to their domestic politics (Vachudova 2005, Kelley 2004a, Schimmelfenning 2002, Williams 1999). The Turkish case shows that the government structure and the governing party’s commitment level to the EU membership are highly relevant for the varying degree of EU impact over time. Moreover, the case provides an example to the following arguments: (1) international factors can have substantial impact over domestic politics (Gourevitch 1978, Pevehouse 2002, Linden 2002b) (2) the impact of international factors on the domestic is contingent on domestic political factors (Ziolanka 2001, Garrett and Lange 1996, Kubicek 2003).
This study employs a temporal comparison across three periods of Turkey-EU relations on the basis of a theoretical framework. Overall, the empirical evidence provides a strong support to the thesis’s hypotheses. Further studies can apply this thesis to other periods of Turkey-EU relations; 1963 to 1997 and post-2004 era, for example. It can also be applied to the relations between the European Union and other candidate countries. This study shows that international dynamics such as EU conditionality may have a transforming power on domestic politics of the candidate countries. It also illustrates that ideational changes at the domestic level (transformation of political Islam following the 28 February crisis) may lead to substantial foreign policy consequences (opening the accession negotiations). Therefore, further studies on dynamic interaction between domestic politics and foreign policy could be fruitful.
Full-text is available at:
Literature, Hypotheses, Methodology
Turkey-EU Relations from December 1997 to December 1999
Turkey-EU Relations from December 1999 to November 2002
Turkey-EU Relations from November 2002 to December 2004
The Reasons for the AKP’s Strong Commitment to the EU Process