The early 1990s… A political rally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan gathers a big crowd and the masses cheer in amazement with every prophecy and promise he utters. Among the many statements, one of them focuses on Turkey’s Europeanization project, which has turned out to be a project of centuries. Erdogan’s exact statement was “…and about the European Union, never worry. We will never enter EU, because they are a Catholic-Christian club and will never accept us.” This statement has served as a guarantee for the supporters of political Islamists in Turkey for a long time, although it has been looked upon with suspicion by some as Erdogan climbed the career stairs and became “the single man” that decides on everything, including Turkey’s Europeanization process.
Over the years, Euroskepticism has been the prevailing point of view in general Turkish society, going hand in hand with rising nationalism in the country. While a big part of the supporters of the governing AKP have been against EU accession, the negotiation process has started and has been continuing very slowly without chapters being opened or completed. In previous years, Turkish business people have been uttering their lack of belief that Turkey would ever manage to complete negotiations, suggesting that it would be more realistic to focus on strategic partnership rather than full membership. The political elites of the AKP have been giving mixed signals over the past years due to its catch-all make-up, yet as the Islamist- and nationalist-rooted politicians become more and more concentrated in top positions, Euroskeptic statements become more frequent as well.
Last week there were demands from the Turkish government to delay EU enlargement progress reports because of the religious feast that Turkish people will observe and that would deny the progress report the public attention it would otherwise get. Another statement concerning the enlargement process came from the EU Minister, Egemen Bagis: “We will probably never be part of the EU.” This statement, coming from the chief negotiator and minister who is responsible for Turkey’s Europeanization project, not only reflects the attitude of the Turkish side but also the feeling of weariness of the governing party concerning the EU.
Not a week after the EU Minister made a statement about the hopelessness of the government regarding a common future for Turkey and the EU, PM Erdogan’s chief advisor, “telekinesis maestro” Yigit Bulut, made another statement: “It might be best to give up on hollow dreams about the EU”. When two strongly Euroskeptical statements come from two very influential people in the government, it might actually reveal a political stand; this now shows how “dedicated” the government is to EU membership and Europeanization process. During the Europe-harmonization reform packages so far, the AKP has been carrying out a very “liberal” version of the reforms, changing bills and laws according to AKP’s agenda and even diverging from European logic from time to time. The very European laws have been turned into elements that will prevent eventual Europeanization, almost fulfilling the earlier statement by Erdogan: “Democracy is not a goal for us, it is just a tool towards our greater goal”.
One might say that the AKP government’s using disproportionate force against any kind of anti-government protest (including the nationally recognized May 1 celebrations), issuing Euroskeptic statements, diverging from the Europeanization project, and boosting nationalism by organizing national alternatives to international cultural and sports events (Turkolympics, Turkevision, Turkish Language Olympics) are all preparation for the 2014 municipal and presidential elections. Yet, this time the election “presents” and boost of nationalism might have outcomes beyond the ballot box. As recently put by political advisors to PM Erdogan, Turkey is going through a phase of “valuable solitude” – seemingly a sugar-coated term for isolation. And at a time when Turkey has become the world’s most fragile economy, on the verge of crisis and with extreme nationalist tendencies, desperately needing more international investments, there can be no guarantee that at any time, new crackdowns will not again reflect its police-state attitudes and practices.