On the Effectivity of Political Conditionality in Turkey

Essay, 2017

8 Pages, Grade: 1,0



On November 24th of 2016, with a considerable majority of 479 to 37 votes (and 107 abstentions), the European Parliament (EP) approved a resolution to “[f]reeze EU accession talks with Turkey until it halts repression”1. Although such a resolution voted on by the EP is not legally binding, it is of a high symbolic value and could thus have substantial political consequences. Since the failed coup d’état in Turkey in July, the Turkish government implemented a variety of measures that included the dismissal, suspension and even imprisonment of tens of thousands of public servants and soldiers;2 repressions that, according to the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), “violate basic rights and freedoms protected by the Turkish Constitution”3 and ultimately led them to vote against further pursuing membership negotiations. Others, including both Turkish and European Politicians, are concerned that such a vote might put even more strain on the already stressed ties between the European Union (EU) and Turkey. Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, warned of rising tensions and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, stated that halting accession talks would shut down a vital channel of dialogue and thus would constitute a “lose-lose scenario”. However, it is also claimed that the membership talks with Turkey are “fundamentally dishonest” and that “[n]either Turkey nor EU members are actually interested in the success of negotiations.”4 How did this happen, after more than a decade of official membership negotiations? Within this essay, I will focus on the question of why political conditionality, generally considered one of the EU’s most efficient democracy promotion instruments, seems to have failed in Turkey. Therefore, I will first look at theories of political conditionality, then evaluate its effectiveness in Turkey, and lastly, in the concluding remarks, consider what implications the findings might have for the future of Turkey’s democracy.

Political Conditionality

As democracy constitutes one of the core values within the self-conception of the European Union, its promotion is of fundamental importance within the EU’s foreign policy. Democracy promotion can be broadly defined as “the processes by which an external actor intervenes to install or assist in the institution of democratic government in a target state”5. These processes can consist of a variety of different actions and strategies that can range from peaceful to forceful measures.6

Ever since its foundation, the very nature of the European Union (or until 1992 the European Community) as a politico-economic entity founded by six member states and currently consisting of 28 member states but possibly accepting more, made it particularly suitable to use one specific democracy promotion instrument: political conditionality, especially in terms of membership. In order to be able to enjoy the benefits the European Union is able to provide, potential member states have to fulfill certain pre- conditions. The Presidency Conclusions of the Copenhagen summit in 1993, nowadays known as the Copenhagen criteria, address these pre-conditions by stating that membership “requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”7.

Political conditionality represents a strategy within the toolbox of democracy promotion that Svea Koch defines as “a mechanism through which states and international institutions aim at influencing the behavior of other states by using material incentives”8. And although there is no consensual definition within the literature, most scholars seem to be of the same opinion regarding the two dimensions political conditionality entails: ex-ante and ex-post conditionality (conditions set up as pre-requisites/conditions set up during the course of a relationship) and positive/negative conditionality (granting of benefits/reducing, suspending or terminating benefits).9 The European Union’s enlargement strategy poses an example of positive ex-ante conditionality that boosted democracies in Central and Eastern Europe during the 1990s. The pure desirability of EU membership appears to have encouraged accession candidates to push democratic reforms and adhere to conditions set up by the EU.10

While these successes might seem to make the effectivity of political conditionality as a democratization strategy “self-evident”11, the question remains as to why political conditionality seems to have failed in Turkey. A variety of scholars identified three criteria as crucial for the succeeding of political conditionality: 1) a positive cost-benefit balance, 2) credibility and 3) consistency.12 This means that in order for political conditionality to work, the reward received for adapting specific measures has to be bigger than the cost of these adjustments (1), that threats and promises connected to conditionality have to be credible (2), and that the demands and rules that have to be fulfilled and followed are clear, determinable and unambiguous (3).

Political Conditionality in the Case of Turkey

Turkey applied to become a member of the European Union’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, already in April 1987 but was denied the official candidacy status in 1989 and 1997 due to economic and democratic reasons as well as concerns regarding human rights. It was not until 1999 that Turkey was officially recognized as a candidate for full membership. However, membership negotiations did not start until another 11 years later in October 2005. In the following, I will look at the effectiveness of political conditionality in Turkey during two periods: 1999 to 2005 and 2005 to today.

1999 to 2005: The time period between 1999 and 2005 is seen to be one of the best examples of how effective political conditionality as a democratization strategy can be.?13 The decision to consider Turkey as a possible member of the EU in 1999 produced a “political avalanche of democratization” and makes Paul Kubicek talk of the “golden age” of reforms in Turkey.14 Within a variety of different reforms the situation of human rights was highly improved, for instance by abolishing the death penalty, expanding the freedom of expression or releasing political prisoners.15 At the same time, Turkey made big steps towards democratization by curtailing the power of the military. According to Ergun Özbudun, the reforms that were implemented in these years had an enormous impact on the fundamental political environment in Turkey by liquidating “a very large part of the semi-authoritarian legacy”16 of the country. By the end of 2004, the European Council recognized that Turkey had sufficiently fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria in order to start actual membership negotiations.17


1 “Freeze EU accession talks with Turkey until it halts repression, urge MEPs”, European Parliament News, 24.11.2016, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20161117IPR51549/freeze-eu-accession-talks-with-turkey-until-it-halts-repression-urge-meps; 28.12.2016.

2 “The Scale of Turkey’s Purge Is Nearly Unprecedented”, The New York Times, 2.8.2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/02/world/europe/turkey-purge-erdogan-scale.html; 28.12.16.

3 “Freeze EU accession talks with Turkey until it halts repression, urge MEPs”, European Parliament News.

4 “Turkey reacts angrily to symbolic EU parliament vote on its membership”, The Guardian, 24.11.16, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/24/eu-parliament-votes-freeze-membership-talks-turkey; 28.12.16

5 Christopher Hobson and Milja Kurki, qtd. in Dipama, Samiratou/Parlar Dal, Emel 2015: The Effectiveness of Political Conditionality as an Instrument of Democracy Promotion by the EU, in: Perceptions XX:1, pp. 112.

6 Dipama/Parlar Dal 2015: 112.

7 European Council 1993: Presidency Conclusions, Copenhangen European Council – 21-22 June 1993, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/ec/pdf/cop_en.pdf; 28.12.2016.

8 Koch, Svea 2015: A Typology of Political Conditionality Beyond Aid: Conceptual Horizons Based on Lessons from the European Union, in: World Development 75, pp. 98.

9 Dipama/Parlar Dal 2015: 113.

10 Dipama/Parlar Dal 2015: 113.

11 Heather Grabbe, qtd. in Kubicek, Paul 2011: Political conditionality and European Union’s cultivation of democracy in Turkey, in: Democratization 18:4, 912.

12 See for example Kubicek 2015 or Coskun, Murat n. d.: Testing the Theories on Conditionality Strategy of the EU: Turkish Political Reforms as a Case Study, https://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.178612!/file/Colloqium_Paper_Murat_Coskun.pdf; 28.12.2016.

13 Coskun n. d.

14 Kubicek 2011: 914.

15 Kubicek 2011: 914.

16 Ergun Özbudun, qtd. in: Kubicek 2011: 915.

17 Kubicek 2011: 915.

Excerpt out of 8 pages


On the Effectivity of Political Conditionality in Turkey
Charles University in Prague  (Political Science)
Promoting Democracy Abroad: the US and the EU in Third Countries
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Political Conditionality, Turkey, EU, Tuerkei, EU-Beitritt, Demokratie, Demokratiefoerderung, European Union
Quote paper
Jannike Riesch (Author), 2017, On the Effectivity of Political Conditionality in Turkey, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/462237


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