Interview with Dr. Alexander Bürgin on Turkey’s EU Accession

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Dr Alexander Bürgin is Assistant Professor at the “Department of International Relations and EU” at Izmir University of Economics. His research interests are: European integration theories, EU-Turkey relations and migration/integration policies of EU countries.


CHANGINGTURKEY: Could you tell us a bit about your recent/forthcoming publications?

Dr Alexander Bürgin: Many Turks believe that their country will never be accepted by the European Union. However, in my latest publications I argue that the opponents of Turkey’s EU membership are actually in a much weaker position than the public discourse in EU countries and in Turkey lead one to assume. The reason is the normative entrapment of the EU. Turkey has been accepted as a candidate country. Thus, the Copenhagen criteria set the framework for Turkey’s EU membership. Arguments against Turkey’s EU accession based on geographical, socio-economic or cultural reasons are not legitimate. Especially, the European Commission resolutely rebutted the arguments against Turkey’s EU accession and acted as a strong defender of the agreed rules of procedure. Of course, the opponents of Turkey’s EU membership can delay the progress of the accession talks, especially because of the unsolved Cyprus issue. However, without a justification acceptable for all member states and with successive EU presidencies pushing for the opening of further negotiation chapters, the delaying strategy of the Turkey-skeptics will become increasingly difficult to sustain, provided that Turkey fulfills its obligations.


The failed attempts of the Turkey-skeptics to stop the accession negotiations show the constraining weight of past policy choices (principle of ‘pacta sunt servanda’) and the path dependency of enlargement politics. The most realistic scenario for the future of the accession talk is the continuation of slow progress. If the Turkish political elite were able to more effectively disclose the true position of the Turkey-skeptics in the EU, which in fact is relatively weak, it could help to boost support for EU accession in Turkey again which has dropped significantly in recent years.


Currently, I am working on the readmission agreement negotiations between the EU and Turkey. In January 2011 the European Commission and the Turkish government announced an agreement which obliges Turkey to take back illegal immigrants who have used Turkey as a transit country on their way to the EU. These are several ten thousands per year. Thus, Turkey would fulfill a costly EU demand without the certainty to be rewarded with EU membership. Again, the role of the European Commission as policy entrepreneur is crucial in order to understand the new readiness of the AKP government to engage in readmission negotiations. The Commission’s offer of a visa liberalization dialogue in exchange for a readmission agreement, despite the opposition of some member states to such an approach in the case of Turkey, has strongly influenced the cost-benefit calculation of the AKP-government. In addition to this external incentive, the new salience of migration issues on the Turkish domestic agenda has facilitated the agreement between the European Commission and Turkey.


Indeed, on 24 February 2011 the Council gave only green light for a visa dialogue which does not include the target of visa exemptions for Turks and Turkey subsequently announced that it will not sign the deal. However, even if quick progress towards visa liberalisation cannot be expected, the supporters of the visa obligation for Turks are more and more in a defensive position. First, the Commission’s offer is supported by a big majority of the member states. All recent readmission agreements were linked with a dialogue on visa liberalisation. Second, the EU needs the cooperation with Turkey in the management of illegal migration, because Turkey has become the main route for illegal immigrants to the EU. Third, court decisions in Germany and Netherlands recently ruled that Turkish nationals can travel visa free to EU states for tourism purposes. Their decision is based on the ‘Soysal’-judgement in which the ECJ ruled that it is inadmissible to impose a visa requirement on Turkish nationals entering the territory of a Member State with a view to providing services there on behalf of an undertaking established in Turkey. All three factors together increase the pressure to abolish the visa obligation for Turks.


Another current research project of me deals with return migration from Germany to Turkey. Apparently, well-educated persons with Turkish migration background increasingly leave Germany to settle in their parents’ homeland. 40.000 Turks and Germans of Turkish origin left the country towards Turkey whereas 30.000 emigrated from Turkey to Germany in 2009. It seems that the trend of migration is shifting. However, very little data is available about the profile, living conditions and economic contributions of persons with Turkish migration background who left Germany in order to work and live in Turkey. That is why this research project will focus on these aspects in a survey among “returnees” in Izmir.


CHANGINGTURKEY: What are the potential limitations of the existing analyses on Turkish politics and society, in your opinion? Could you suggest any gaps in the literature or any potential pitfalls?


Dr Alexander Bürgin: I am originally from Germany and therefore interested in exchange projects between German and Turkish scholars. In the last years the interest in Turkey has dramatically increased in Germany (new research centres, funding of research programmes, scientific exchange programmes). However, exchanges should still become more sustainable.


The public debate in Turkey focuses on the power struggle between AKP and its opponents – and inspires also many scholars to deal with this issue. That is understandable, but it seems to me that thus other issues of Turkish politics sometimes receive inadequate attention.


As regards the European Union, I have the impression that some studies of Turkish scholars treat the EU as unitary actor and thus neglect the heterogeneity and dynamics of EU governance.


CHANGINGTURKEY: Could you suggest any publications about Turkish society?


Dr Alexander Bürgin: Currently, I am working on the reform of Turkey’s migration policy (asylum, border management and readmission). In this field I recommend the work of Kemal Kirisci and Ahmet Icduygu.
CHANGINGTURKEY: Is there anything you would like to add?


Dr Alexander Bürgin: I like the concept and the content of “Changing Turkey in a Changing World” very much and I wish you that this platform further increases its coverage.


This interview was first published at Changing Turkey in a Changing World.


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