Euroscepticism in Turkish Politics


A review of Understanding the Euroscepticism in Turkish Politics, by Seçkin Barış Gülmez.

This dissertation provides important insights into the discourse about European Union and European integration that has been taking place in Turkish mainstream politics since 2002. By focusing on the complex nature of Euroscepticism in Turkey and candidate countries in general, this study seeks to explain the main determinants of rising skepticism against EU accession. Consequently, it argues that Euroscepticism in candidate countries develops as a response to the EU’s both issue-specific and country-specific conditionality (p. 21).

The first chapter of the dissertation reviews the relevant literature on the attitudes of the political parties towards the EU and European integration. By analyzing the different meanings of the term across Europe, this chapter differentiates between the underlying reasons of the Euroscepticism by accession and candidate countries. Moreover, it also provides a review of the literature on Turkish political parties and stresses and discusses that Turkey’s critical stance towards EU accession can be better explained by taking into account both domestic and EU-driven factors in combining the different approaches in the literature. The chapter suggests developing a framework that explains Euroscepticism in candidate countries by distinguishing between opposition to European integration and party opposition to the membership process (pp. 51-52).

Chapter 2 puts special emphasis on the changing political party attitudes in accession countries towards EU accession process. It claims that country-specific conditionality causes Euroscepticism that transcends ideological differences. This chapter gives detailed account of candidate country Euroscepticism in response to the EU’s issue-specific and country-specific conditions relying on examples from Turkey and other accession countries. In addition, the author investigates the literature in order to formulate a basic set of hypotheses on how these can be understood. The proposed hypotheses in the study suggest that party ideology explains Eurosceptic behavior in the sense that Conservative, Nationalist, and Authoritarian parties (TAN) are more likely to adopt Euroscepticism, while liberal (GAL) parties tend to support the EU membership process (p. 81). This argument is in line with Gary Mark’s explanations of Eurosceptic behavior, but the study underlines also the need to consider the EU-driven factors which are likely to diminish the explanatory power of party ideology in the accession process.

Chapter 3 presents the research design and justifies the case selections at different levels. The chapter offers explanations on the selections of particular Turkish political parties (the AKP, the CHP, the MHP and the BDP) and reform areas (minority rights, foreign land ownership, and the EU’s Cyprus conditionality). Moreover, it justifies methodological choices based on a single-case study and elite interviewing. Chapter 4 studies domestic responses in Turkey to the EU’s conditionality of minority rights and Chapter 5 discusses finding on the reform of foreign land ownership. Both chapters 4 and 5 demonstrate that in the case of issue-specific conditionality, nationalist attitudes as ideological stances cause the basis of party-based Euroscepticism. Additionally, it is demonstrated that Turkish attitudes correspond to those of political parties in other accession countries.

Chapter 6 discusses Turkey’s attitude towards the EU’s Cyprus conditionality. The chapter finds also similar reaction mechanisms in other candidate countries such as Macedonia and Croatia to extra country-specific pressures coming from the EU. The concluding chapter provides an analysis of the findings derived from the analyzed cases holding as its main argument that Turkish Euroscepticism is multi-causal and is not only based on ideological or strategic factors but it involves also a reactionary aspect.

The thesis shows that there is a need for a different analytical framework for the study of political party positions towards European Union (EU) membership in candidate countries. It demonstrates that the explanatory power of models based on Euroscepticism – defined as opposing Europe – diminishes when the focus of the study shifts from member countries to the accession countries and from a holistic view of European integration process to the particular stage of accession negotiations (p. 53). By considering the EU-driven factors, the dissertation argues that Euroscepticism in candidate countries involves domestic reactions to the EU’s conditionality on particular issues and the EU’s extra conditions towards particular countries during the accession negotiations (pp. 256-257).

In studying Euroscepticism, core ideas of strategy or ideology have often been used to ‘explain’ why things happen. However, this study shows that once one is located in a specific instance it quickly becomes apparent that there are lots of other contextual factors at play. Accordingly, it can be questioned whether the same concepts and categories that we know of from Euroscepticism in member states are applicable to the candidate countries and Turkish case. Besides focusing on the contextual nature of Euroscepticism, this dissertation contributes to the development of Euroscepticism research in suggesting that traditional categories and established theories of political party attitudes towards the EU and European integration fell short in explaining the Euroscepticism in candidate countries. This leads to the conclusion that we should supplement the traditional categories and resolve contradictions by using a contextual approach.

Can Büyükbay
Department of Political Science and Public Administration
Turkish-German University

Primary Sources

Face-to-face interviews with politicians from main political parties (AKP, MHP, CHP, BDP)
Scanned minutes from parliamentary debates (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi)

Dissertation Information

Royal Holloway University of London. 2013. 320 pp. Primary Advisor: James Sloam.

Image: Turkey-EU Flag

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