Overestimating the Impact of Europe? The Case of Turkish Foreign Policy

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By Paula Sandrin | 20 September 2010


It might seem strange to discuss the impact of European Union on Turkish foreign policy at a time when Turkey is accused of moving away from the West. The flotilla crisis with Israel and “no” vote on tougher sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council are the most recent events which seem to confirm Turkey’s abandonment of its traditional allies. However, until recently, prominent scholars such as Aydin and Acikmese (2007), Ozcan (2008), Altunisik (2009) and Muftuler-Baç and Gursoy (2009) were writing about the europeanization of Turkish foreign policy. In fact, Turkey’s broad alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) was continuously lauded in yearly Progress Reports. The latest Turkey Progress Report (2009) states that Turkey’s alignment with EU CFSP policy has continued and that Turkey aligned itself with 99 CFSP declarations out of a total of 128 declarations.

On the other hand, Turkey began to be accused of shifting axis from West to East (Cagaptay 2009). According to this alternative line of argument, Turkish foreign policy did not become europeanized. Au Contraire, Turkey’s improvement of relations with countries which just a decade ago it nearly went to war with had little to do with Europe, and more to do with the Islamic pedigree and intentions of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2003.

So what is actually going on? Are the above mentioned analyses which consider the impact of Europe on Turkish foreign policy simply wrong? I would argue that they are not wrong, but that the EU impact has been somewhat overestimated, in particular when the internalization of EU foreign policy norms by Turkish policy-makers is concerned.

The concept of europeanization refers to the domestic adaptation to European regional integration (Vink and Graziano 2008). It was initially developed for communitized policy areas of the first pillar and for domestic changes in member states, but gradually began to be applied to foreign policy (Smith 2000, Major 2005 and Wong 2008) which is located in the intergovernmental second pillar, and to candidate countries (Grabbe 2003 and Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeir 2008).


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