Excerpt from Ziya Onis (2009) “Contesting for the ‘Center’: Domestic Politics, Identity Conflicts and The Controversy over EU Membership in Turkey”, Bilgi University European Institute Working Paper No: 2 EU/2/2010, [online]: http://eu.bilgi.edu.tr/docs/working%20paper2_101209.pdf
The current constitutional crisis in the EU may ironically create an opportunity space for Turkey. Clearly what is at stake in the constitutional debate is the future direction of the European project. If the outcome of the constitutional crisis is the development of the EU more in the direction of what Jan Zielonka calls a loosely structured “medieval empire”, which is broadly consistent with the British vision rather than the kind of deep integration project favored by the French, this will naturally embody very significant implications for the future place of Turkey in the European context. If the future path of the EU involves a British style integration process of a relatively loose, intergovernmental Europe with relatively flexible boundaries which allows significant scope for national autonomy, the prospects for Turkish accession will be considerably improved. In contrast, if the dominant style of integration is based on the French project of deep integration- the idea of Europe as a “place” with fixed boundaries as opposed to a flexible “space”-the natural inclination will be to include Turkey as an “important outsider” rather than a “natural insider” in a special partnership style arrangement. Our interpretation of the current constitutional impasse in Europe having reached a peak with the negative vote in Irish referendum of June 2008 is that the dominant tendency in the foreseeable future is likely to be the first scenario of flexible integration which clearly constitutes a development in Turkey’s favor.
What we increasingly observe in the current era is the emergence of an implicit broad and mutually reinforcing coalition for “special partnership”, which seems to be deeply rooted, but for rather different reasons, both in the European and Turkish contexts. This constitutes a significant danger from the point of Turkey’s full-membership prospects. The proponents of Turkish membership both at home and abroad appear to be increasingly less vocal and enthusiastic compared to their Turko-skeptic and Euro-skeptic counterparts. The retreat to “loose Europeanization” certainly does not signify the abandonment of the Europeanization project altogether. What it means, however, is that the EU will no longer be at the center-stage of Turkey’s external relations or foreign policy efforts. This, in turn, is likely to have dramatic repercussions for the depth and intensity of the democratization process in Turkey especially in key areas such as a complete reordering of military-civilian relations, an extension of minority rights and a democratic solution to the Kurdish problem, as well as counteracting the deeply embedded problem of gender inequality. There exist key elements within the Turkish state and Turkish society, which would be quite content with the loose Europeanization solution given the perceived threats posed by a combination of deep Europeanization and deep democratization for national sovereignty and political stability. The fears of deep Europeanization are not simply confined to the defensive nationalist camp. There also exists considerable conservatism even in the much more globally oriented AKP circles, when it comes to deep democratization agenda, as it is clearly evident from the resistance to the repealing of the article 301 of the penal code.
A final question to raise in this context is whether the drift towards loose Europeanization is likely to be reversed. The likelihood of a major reversal in the immediate term appears to be rather low. From a longer-term perspective, two possibly mutually reinforcing developments may facilitate a renewed impetus to the deep Europeanization agenda. The first element of such a scenario would involve a new enlargement wave in Europe, which would incorporate the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Turkey as a country, which has already reached the point of accession negotiations will not be immune to such a process. The second element of such a scenario would involve the emergence of a strong counter-movement from the more liberal and Western-oriented segments of the Turkish society, who will place Europeanization and reform firmly on its political agenda.