The current debates and the literature
Turkey’s candidacy to the EU and later the accession process led to a plethora of studies in the 2000s, on various aspects of Turkey’s Europeanization and the accession process. This booming academic interest gradually waned in the next decade with the shift in tide in EU-Turkey relations. Since the early 2010s, a limited number of volumes contributed to debates on Turkey’s Europeanization (Nas and Ozer, 2012; Tekin and Giiney, 2015), the accession process (Miiftuler-Bac, 2016a; Yejilada, 2013), and the political conditionality (Muftiiler-Ba?, 2016b) at length. These studies utilized various conceptual tools in examining how the EU and the accession process shape different policy areas, politics and actors in Turkey. But such efforts have been scarce. Another strand in the literature discusses the reversal of the Europeanization in Turkey’s relations with the EU, a process referred by the scholars as de-Europeanization.4 These studies demonstrate the slowdown and even reversal of EU-induced reforms, as well as how European nonns and values cease to inform public debates in Turkey.
More commonly, the recent literature on EU-Turkey relations reflects the current deadlock in the accession process and investigates ways and means to sustain, if not further, the relations under the present circumstances. In these efforts, ‘transactionalism’ has become the buzzword among scholars and researchers. Transactionalism refers to the efforts to build or sustain the relations on issues based on mutual interests at the time when the relations do not progress towards membership. As such, an important strand of tire current literature focuses on one area, or multiple areas, on which Turkey and the EU already cooperate.
One such area is trade relations and economic integration. These studies inevitably focus on the Customs Union between the EU and Turkey. They analyze the EU-Turkey Customs Union, explore its impact on the respective economies, and the gains it produced in the past 20 years (Aytug et al., 2016; Togan, 2015). The accelerating negotiations between the EU and the USA for a flee trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in 2015 and 2016, also triggered discussions on the constraints of the Customs Union and different scenarios for its modernization (Altay, 2018; Erzan, 2018; Kiri§ci, 2015; Long, 2016; Ulgen, 2015). Others argued that the Customs Union’s modernization could help spark economic growth on both sides and help preserve the EU-Trukey economic engagement (Ulgen, 2017), while its negotiations could restore the EU’s conditionality over Turkey and once again create a constructive momentum (Kirisci and Bulbul, 2017; Hamilton, 2018; Zihnioglu, 2014). Considering that the EU-Turkey Customs Union entered into force even before Turkey’s candidacy, deepening trade and economic relations is seen as a solid ground to further relations. In addition, regional and global developments also make this topic more attractive. On the one hand, the US President Donald Trump’s protectionist economic policies have led to what many see as a trade war and threaten European economies. On the other hand, many fear that the UK’s plamied leave from the EU, Brexit, will cause some major trade disruption in Europe.
The EU’s migration crisis in 2015, followed by the EU’s efforts to manage the crisis in collaboration with Turkey brought the migration issue high on the agenda in EU-Turkey relations. The Joint Action Plan (2015) and the Statement (2016) between the EU and Turkey, and, in particular, the action points to reenergize the accession process sparked both scholarly and policy debates. Scholars discussed the deal made by the EU and Turkey with its advantages and limitations (Cherubini, 2017; Lehner, 2018; Rygiel et al., 2016), how the deal is framed in the Turkish political scene (Demirsu and Mufttiler-Bac, 2017), proposed alternative ways for cooperation (Kirisci, 2016). Other scholars investigated how the migration deal impacted on EU-Turkey partnership on irregular migration (Dimitriadi et al., 2018) and more broadly EU-Turkey relations in general (Ott, 2017).
Several scholars approach functional cooperation in a more holistic way to analyze its implications over EU-Turkey relations. They investigate not only trade and migration, but also energy, the fight against terrorism and even foreign policy. Aydin-Dtizgit and Tocci (2015) work with three analytical lenses to understand EU-Turkey relations: Turkey as an enlargement country, as an EU neighbor country and as a global actor. The authors unpack the implications of different areas of cooperation according to each analytical lens. Mufttiler-Bac (2017) looks into areas of functional integration and investigates whether alternative models of integration beyond membership are possible. Kirisci (2017) on the other hand, analyzes EU-Turkey cooperation based on Turkey’s broader relations with the West. To sum up, the current literature, both those focusing on individual cases of cooperation and also those broader studies consider, explain and analyze the transactional aspects of EU-Turkey relations beyond the accession process.
This book takes a different angle from the transactionalist approaches to EU-Turkey relations and focuses on the hidden but ever-present civil society dimension. In doing so, the book offers an analysis of the limits of socialization through the EU’s empowerment of civil society actors in the domestic contexts. The EU’s strategy of transnational reinforcement through triggering a debate in the domestic context by empowering civil society actors is based on the logic that civil society actors are well-entrenched and have sufficient access to policy-makers. These assumptions appear void in the context of Turkey. For civil society actors to facilitate social learning, they should also have intensive interactions with their European counterparts. Additionally, such an external connection should be legitimate in domestic contexts. This then links back to the legitimacy of the nonns that the EU seeks to promote in third countries - in this case, Turkey.
This book has three pillars. First, it establishes the growing depoliticization of Turkish civil society. It shows the gradual diminishing of critique and contestation in civil society and the tendency among civic organizations to move away from discourse and activities that challenge the policies and practices in their area. While doing so, it explains its transformation and depicts its cunent picture. It shows that most civic actors have become less political and only certain groups continue rights-based activism.
Second, this book engages with the questions of why and how Turkish civil society depoliticized. This book suggests two main reasons behind this. First is the overall political environment in Turkey. The book discusses how Turkey’s retreating democracy, and the intense polarization in Turkish political and social life, make rights-based activism more difficult. It tells the stories of rights-based activists who speak with a lower tone, the civil society organizations that meet new challenges every day; that learn one day they are indicted, only to find out the next day they are closed down. This book examines the transformation from a period when Turkey waited excitedly for the EU’s statements, to one where prominent politicians throw EU reports on the floor live on TV. This book discusses how this change and the diminishing leverage of the EU’s policies reflect on Turkey’s already closing civic space. The second reason is the EU’s support to Turkish civil society. An instrument of the EU foreign policy in Turkey, EU funds make up some of the largest financial support Turkish civil society receives. This book shows that EU funds contributed to depoliticization of civil society organizations, by mainly supporting projects that help improve public policies in various areas and rarely rights-based activities.
Finally, this book investigates what implications Turkish civil society’s depoliticization bears for Turkey’s current and future ties with the EU. For this, it explains why and how EU-Turkey relations deteriorated over the last decade and examines the cunent stalemate. It explores in detail the current problems, how the relations progress towards a transactional one and discusses why civil society matters. In relation to this, it also addresses the question of how effective depoliticizing civil society could be in transferring European norms.
Despite the ongoing academic interest in EU-Turkey relations, the civil society dimension is largely neglected. Civil society is important for EU-Turkey relations because first, unlike other aspects, it has largely been kept out of daily political conflicts and therefore might act as a communication chaimel with Turkish society, even when tensions are very high. Second, rights-based activism gains further importance in the face of Turkey’s retreating democracy. Explaining the causes of Turkish civil society’s depoliticization informs how Turkey’s democracy and its relations with the EU will unfold. Finally, with new forms of civic activism more visible since the Gezi Protests of 2013, what comes to define civil society in Turkey is in change. This book is important for understanding the changing outlook of Turkish civil society. It is also a timely contribution to project how the new and traditional civic actors may play out with increasing contextual challenges, particularly since the coup attempt in 2016.
In order to understand the determinants of the EU’s impact, positive or negative, in different contexts, the following section will review the literature on Europeanization and its influence mechanisms, which captures both the harmonization of the EU’s acquis communautaire through a top-down approach or by triggering a process of socialization from bottom-up.