The Concept of a European Identity. Does Turkey culturally fit to Europe?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

16 Pages, Grade: 1,7




1. Introduction

2. The European identity
2.1 The Uniqueness: Historical Heritage and Christianity
2.2 The Other
2.3 The Nation-state and Secularism

3. The Public Opinion on a Turkish Membership

4. Conclusion


♦ Bibliography

List of Abbreviations

European Economic Community European Free Trade Association European Union

List of Tables

Table 1: Approval rate to Turkish accession 9

Table 2: Turkish m embership from the perspective of EU citizens

1. Introduction

“The EU is in the process of building a civilization in which Turkey has no place” - Wilfried Martens, Member of the European Christian Democrats

For more than 5 0 years, Turkey is waiting at the gates of the European Union (EU). Already in 1963 the European Economic Community (EEC) and Turkeyjoined an association agreement, the so-called Ankara Agreement, establishing a common customs union. Since then the country strives for a full membership in the EU, in October 2005 the accession negotiations officially began.[1] [2] Ever since an open debate prevailed within the EU on whether Turkey really belongs in the community or not. Reports of honor killings, forced marriages, restricted freedom of expression and freedom of the press or even the recent Gezipark protests heated up the debate among politicians, EU citizens as well as the media.[3] In addition to economic, political, geographic and geostrategic arguments for and against the accession of Turkey, especially one issue is highly debated: Does the Turkey culturally fit in the EU?

Critics of Turkey's membership strives claim that the current EU and Turkey are fundamentally different from each other due to a very different history, different intellectual historical context, but mainly due to different religious orientation and different social norms.[4] And also the opinion polls conducted by the Eurobarometer clarify a widespread skepticism and reservations towards Turkey's possible accession due to the fact that Turkey is predominantly a Muslim country.[5]

Cultural differences, which have already been discussed in the context of EU enlargement in 2004, are not per se a criterion to deny the country a membership or to doubt their ability to integrate in the community. Because the in the preamble of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe from 2004 captured motto of Europe states, that the EU is united in Diversity and that their citizens should act out their belief in peace and freedom.[6]

The Question of Turkeys accession is directly linked to the Question of a European identity[7] respectively self-understanding, because the debate raises questions about the Unions future directions as well as its underlying rationale. Due to Turkey's accession bid, the EU has to clarify and test the limits of its universalist language like proposed in the Europe motto and also its self-understanding: is the EU the result of a Kantian tradition of cosmopolitanism or is the Union ”a closed club for Christian states located in between the Urals and the Atlantic?”[8]

The accession negotiations to the EU are dominantly determined by perceptions if the candidate fits into the predetermined European identity. The reason why the Turkish case if of that importance is that the debate concerning the accession demonstrates the ambivalent understanding of Europeanness and the attempts to construct a common identity.

An answer to the question of Turkey's cultural affiliation therefore implies first a definition or an explanation of the normative reference point, the cultural self-understanding of the European Union. It therefore seems useful to deal first of all with the concept of European identity in more detail: What unites Europe culturally and on which ‘shared values’ bases this project? Therefore the first section of this term paper will offer an analysis of the EU's the cultural identity analyzing the aspects of Uniqueness, The “Concept of the Other” as well as the understanding of nation-state and secularism as main features of a European cultural identity. Based on the assumption that ideational factors play an significant role in determining the public's view on the accession bid, the public opinion of the EU citizens will be analyzed using the results of the Special Eurobarometer from 2006.

The aim of this paper is to not to grasp and represents the concept of a European identity as a whole nor should statements be made about whether Turkey shouldjoin the EU or not. Using a constructivist approach, it is the exclusive purpose of this work to determine the cornerstone of the EU identity, to analyze the public opinion on the accession in reference to the European identity and to look if Turkey predominantly Muslim society might fit or misfit to that.

2. The European identity

It is problematic to give a precise answer to the question of the EU's collective identity. Therefore it has to be pointed out, that European identity is yet to prevail over the national identities. Those still remain at the fore front and do not appear to be eroding in favor of the newly emerging European identity:[9] “European identity is a new layer of self-identification, added on top of national identities without necessarily challenging them.”[10]

When thinking about the concept of a European identity it is pertinent to analysis which elements might construct this identity and what the assumed uniqueness of this identity is about. The discourse is shaped by a reference to the common cultural heritage and the common historical and spiritual-historical roots of the continent. To address the argument, that Turkey as a candidate is culturally and politically "too different" to be included in the Community of the European Union, the elements of this presumed unique European identity have to be analyzed more detailed. In addition to the often articulated religious difference and historical heritage, mainly three cultural requirements shape the understanding of identity: the concept of the other, the homogenous nation-state and the unique understanding of secularism.

2.1 The Uniqueness: Historical Heritage and Christianity

In 2004, shortly before the negotiation talks between Turkey and the EU were officially launched, the then chairman of the German Christian Union and today Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, who is known to be an opponent of a full-membership option, stated: “The European Union is more than an economic purpose association. It is a political and economic union of states and peoples of Europe, based on an historically grown set of values.”[11] As this statement enlightens, Opponents as well as right-wing conservatives see Turkey as the significant other, since it is not sharing the same historical roots and has consequently not the same cultural and political values. But what are the historical roots which corroborate the argument of a “homogenous entity”.[12]

The European history is understood as encompassing the classical or pre-medieval beginning of modern European civilization. The European Heritage has its roots in the Ancient Greece and Roman Empire, stretching over the time of the Enlightment to the experiences of the Second World War to the Cold War. These important historical events “have left unique marks on the European mind” and shaped the feeling of a common history and heritage.[13]

German parliamentarian Friedberg Pfluger states about the set of values that define Europe's Identity concerning a common historical heritage:

“A political union needs something like a We-feeling. This we-feeling is something more than a commitment to democracy and human rights. It has to do with a centuries-old shared history: Greek antiquity, Roman law, the conflict between the Pope and the German Kaiser in the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Enlightment, all these that give Europe its specific character.”[14] (Note: own Translation)

While Europe was shaped by Christianity and the mentioned epochs, these cultural epochs were missing in Turkish history. Pluralism and secularization as a result of completed separation of church and state since the Middle ages are specific features of occidental European development, which never occurred in the Byzantine culture nor in the Islamic world. Turkey was characterized with respect to this historical acquisition only recently by an adaptation of this civilizational characteristics of European development.[15]

The most striking argument in the debate and referring to the uniqueness is that of religion, since the European Identity has been mostly reconstructed with ethno- cultural and especially with religious dimensions. Christianization is dealt as a unique feature of European heritage and Kylstad argues, that “Christianity enabled an anthropocentric and active world view not possible within Eastern religions, inducting in the Western and European man an attitude of domination and supremacy.”[16]

Although no longer actively practiced by the majority of the European population, Christianity as well as the common Christian heritage still serves as an identity marker.[17] But Christianity is not very much understood as a belief, but more as a civilizational idea, that separates Europeans apart from the Non-Europeans, a political culture and a kind of lifestyle.[18] As such, it is said that Christianity had a striking influence and that fundamental secular European values such as “the separation of spiritual and worldly affairs, the separation between the public and the private spheres, the idea of natural rights protecting the individual against the state” had their roots in the Christian heritage.[19]

Concerning the European identity it has furthermore to be noted, that the function of Christianity as a religion had a transformation in its function: it is nowadays more a set of secular values than a belief system and those values are handled as constituent element of the European identity. As this the specific characteristic is dealt as a feature no one can acquire but has to be born into or adopt over a long time period.[20]

2.2 The Other

The sense of belonging together or having the same identity is never something natural given, but rather a social construct to justify the cohesion of communities such as nations or states, distancing themselves from other communities.[21] The European identity has always been constructed along ethno-cultural and religious lines to decide who is European and who is not.[22] The theory of Neumann and Welsh “The Other in the European Self-Definition” published in 1991 posits that Europeans distinct themselves referring to cultural or religious aspects.[23]

“The very idea of what Europe was from the beginning is defined partly in terms of what it was not. In other words, the Other, i.e. the non-European barbarian or savage, played a decisive role in the Evolution of the European identity and in the maintenance of order among European states. [x]By delineating which areas and values fell beyond the pale of European society, [...] European states refashioned their own identity as a cultural whole and were better able to create the rules and institutions distinctive to their own interstate game.”[24] [25]

Consequently it is part of the European Self-understanding that all that is non-European constructs what it is about and historical, ethnic, cultural but especially religious factors seems to construct the Self vs. Other-Identity of the Europe.

This argument is bound in the tradition of a European view of Turkey, in which the country is perceived as “the other” by Europe to identify and constitute in demarcation. This pattern of perception is centuries old and some much the ratio of the European powers to the Ottoman Empire. Behind this is ultimately the idea that religious dividing lines are also social boundaries.2 5 However, the awareness of otherness of the Turks had in the past centuries so far a real relationship, when the European powers defined itself very strongly about religion at least until the early modern period: “the defensive struggle of the Christian West against the threat

Internet sources

Barker, Paul (2012): Turkeys Religious Identity and the Question of European Union Membership, Paper from the Ankara Conference on Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution 17-19.04.2012, online available: < academy/content/pdf/participant-papers/2012-04-ankara/Turkish-Religious-Identity- and-the-Question-of-European-Union-Membership—J-Paul-Barker.pdf>, (last access: 25.12.2013).

European Commission (2004): Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, online available: < do?uri=0J%3AC%3A2004%3A310%3AS0%3 ADE%3AHTML> (last access: 16.01.2014).

European Commission (2006): Standart Eurobarometer 64. Die offentliche Meinung in der Europaischen Union, online available: < archives/eb/eb64/eb64_de.pdf>, (last access: 13.01.2014).

European Commission: Special Eurobarometer 255. Attitudes towards European Union Enlargement, online available: <>, (last access: 13.01.2014).

German Bundestag (2004): Plenary debate on Turkey-EU Relations, online available: <>, (last access: 19.01.2014).

Merkel, Angela (2004): Partnerschaft statt EU-Mitgliedschaft, in: Die WELT from

16.10.2004, online available: < Partnerschaft-statt-EU-Mitgliedschaft.html>, (last access: 18.01.2014).

The Economist (1997): Turkey and Europe- Just not our Sort, online available: <>, (last access: 16.01.2014).


[1] 'The Economist (1997): Turkey and Europe- Just not our Sort, online available: <>, (last access: 16.01.2014).

[2] Muftuler Bac, Meltem (2005): Turkey's Political Reforms: The Impact of the European Union, in: South East European Politics and Societies, No. 10/1, p.19.

[3] Wuermeling, Frederike (2007): Passt die Turkei zur EU und die EU zu Europa?- Eine Mehrebenenanalyse auf Basis der Europaischen Wertestudie, in: Kolner Zeitschrift fur Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, No. 5 9/2, p. 18 5 .

[4] Muftuler-Bac, Meltem (2000): Through the Looking Glass: Turkey in Europe, in: Turkish Studies, No. 1/1, p.24.

[5] Barysch, Katinka (2007): What Europeans think about Turkey and Why, in: Center for European Reforms, No. 2/2007, p.1.

[6] European Commission (2004): Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, online available: <http://eur- lex. europa. eu/>, (last access: 16.01.2014).

[7] In the following, the terms EU identity and European identity will be used synonymously.

[8] Kylstad, Ingrid (2010): Turkey and the EU: A 'new' European identity in the making? In: London School of Economics and Political Science Paper, No. 27/2010, p.1.

[9] Muftuler Bac, Meltem/ Taskin, Evrim (2007): Turkey's Accession to the European Union: Does Culture and Identity play a Role?, in: Ankara Review of European Studies, No.6/2, p. 39.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Merkel, Angela (2004): Partnerschaft statt EU-Mitgliedschaft, in: Die WELT from 16.10.2004, online available: <>, (last access: 18.01.2014); Kylstad: Turkey and the EU, p.5 .

[12] Kylstad: Turkey and the EU, p.5 .

[13] Ibid.

[14] German Bundestag (2004): Plenary debate on Turkey-EU Relations, online available: < /doc/btp/15/15148.pdf>, (last access: 19.01.2014), p. 13802.

[15] Kramer, Heinz (2003): EU-kompatibel oder nicht? Zur Debatte um die Mitgliedschaft der Turkei in der Europaischen Union, in: Stiftung fur Wissenschaft und Politik, No.34, p.10.

[16] Kylstad: Turkey and the EU, p.5 .

[17] Yilmaz, Hakan (2007): Turkish identity on the road to the EU: basic elements of French and German oppositional discourses, in: Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, No. 9/3, p. 298.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Yilmaz: Turkish identity on the road to the EU, p. 298.

[21] Kramer: EU-kompatibel odernicht? P. 16.

[22] Muftuler-Bac: Through the Looking Glass, p. 2 5 .

[23] Neumann, Iver B. / Welsh, Jennifer M. (1991): The Other in the European Self-Definition: An Addendum to the Literature on International Society, in: Review of International Studies, No.17/4, p. 329-330.

[24] Neumann: The Other in the European Self-Definition, p. 329-330

[25] Kramer: EU-kompatibel oder nicht?, p.11.

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The Concept of a European Identity. Does Turkey culturally fit to Europe?
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