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The Rise of Authoritarianism on the Edge of Europe

Most people might argue over the ambigu­ous polit­ical situ­ation in Tur­key where one has wit­nessed the rise of both author­it­ari­an­ism and social and polit­ical reforms since 2002, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power. It was the first time in the polit­ical his­tory of Tur­key that a party has man­aged to increase its seats in the par­lia­ment three times in a row. It seems very plaus­ible that there exists a move towards author­it­ari­an­ism[1], but this –interestingly- did not give rise to a strong oppos­i­tion demand­ing more say in polit­ics. This situ­ation is reflec­ted by the con­tra­dic­tion in Erdogan’s polit­ics: If it is true that the incum­bent party under­went con­sti­tu­tional changes and reforms -such as restrict­ing the army’s influ­ence on politics- and bene­fit­ing from being elec­ted by half of the voters, the Oppos­i­tion has been increas­ingly repressed in an author­it­arian way, not only on the polit­ical stage, but also in the media and other form of rep­res­ent­a­tions. This argu­ment becomes more com­pel­ling when we look at some inter­na­tional reports[2].

Most reforms lead­ing to eco­nomic suc­cess and polit­ical sta­bil­ity are sub­ject to praise; how­ever, fail­ure in human­it­arian issues, author­it­at­ive and pop­u­listic state­ments and imple­ment­a­tions deserve to be men­tioned for their extrem­ist char­ac­ters[3]. So, what is next? What will hap­pen con­cerns not only local voters, but also Turk­ish part­ners, includ­ing the EU.

Tur­key and the EU

The most recur­ring and import­ant ques­tions “Does Tur­key need the EU?” and “Would the EU be eager to have a semi-authoritarian state with a massive pop­u­la­tion in the union?” over­lap in terms of their con­texts and pos­sible answers. Tur­key polit­ic­ally and stra­tegic­ally needs the EU, albeit not eco­nom­ic­ally in the short-run. The fail­ure of the EU mem­bers in solv­ing the recent eco­nomic crisis has spread the view that Tur­key, as a grow­ing power, does not need the EU since most of its mem­bers already per­formed worse than Turkey.

How­ever, the polit­ical aspect is the most cru­cial point regard­ing the future of these two entit­ies. Indeed, these two play­ers’ eco­nomic object­ives do not con­verge: Tur­key has already reached a con­sid­er­able growth rate dur­ing the last dec­ades, while the EU’s pri­or­it­ies since the cre­ation of the EMU has always been infla­tion and fiscal dis­order rather than out­stand­ing growth rate. What Tur­key needs is first to estab­lish a strong oppos­i­tion that will never be repressed by the incum­bent parties, not only in terms of party com­pet­i­tions but also ideas and imple­ment­a­tions. This way, the import­ance of a cha­ris­matic lead­er­ship and single-man parties will greatly dimin­ish[4].

On the other hand, the EU’s will­ing­ness to have Tur­key in the Union will not be affected by the rising author­it­ari­an­ism there. Indeed, skip­ping the well-known argu­ment that the EU needs Tur­key due to its young work force and dynamic eco­nomy, I will touch upon a dif­fer­ent point: The reason why the EU’s will­ing­ness to accept Tur­key as a mem­ber will not be affected by the rising author­it­ari­an­ism there. If the EU enlarge­ment policies are indeed based on eco­nomic and polit­ical cri­teria, it would not mind the rise of author­it­ari­an­ism so much, for it has already accep­ted European states with high author­ity trends in the Union in the past. Hav­ing author­it­arian atti­tudes in polit­ics has never made Tur­key less import­ant, as it never did so to the oth­ers. We can broaden the argu­ment by ana­lyz­ing the European Union enlarge­ment policies and ‘polity score index’[5]: In Poland and Hun­gary, where the prac­tice of demo­cracy had not been exper­i­enced before join­ing the EU, author­ity trends star­ted to increase gradu­ally after the mem­ber­ship pro­cess[6]. The same holds true for Bul­garia and Romania. Until the mid-1990s, the Polity score of Bul­garia and Romania was between -6 and 0. With the EU mem­ber­ship pro­cess, this score scaled up to 6-8, very close to full democracy. There­fore, the EU does not look at the author­ity trends of a coun­try to accept it to join, but rather at other cri­teria that it con­siders more import­ant to be met for the mem­ber­ship to the Union (named the Copen­ha­gen cri­teria). Besides, the EU even­tu­ally would force can­did­ate coun­tries to move towards polit­ical lib­er­al­iz­a­tion, loosen­ing the polit­ical con­flict and elect­oral authoritarianism.

In a nut­shell, Tur­key will always need the EU, or at least the mem­ber­ship pro­cess, in order to secure its demo­cratic insti­tu­tions and to get free from author­it­arian tendencies.

– Tevfik Murat Yildirim


Dis­claimer: This art­icle was ori­gin­ally pub­lished as ” The Rise of Authoritarianism on the Edge of Europe” on January 15, 2013 on The European Student Think Tank, a PB cooper­a­tion partner.


(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works United Nations Photo, Creative Commons, Flickr)


[1] We can­not simply define whether it is an author­it­arian or semi-authoritarian regime that Tur­key has been adopt­ing for the last couple of years. Accord­ing to Andreas Schedler, an elect­oral author­it­arian rule –for instance- should be min­im­ally plur­al­istic, min­im­ally com­pet­it­ive, broadly inclus­ive and min­im­ally open in terms of the oppos­i­tion parties present in the com­pet­i­tion. Tur­key seems to be far from meet­ing these cri­teria to be named an elect­oral author­it­arian rule, although I have some doubts about the last one.
[2] Free­dom House announces annual reports on coun­tries’ freedom-authority trends. It takes into account the rights of oppos­i­tion parties, free­dom in press-media, and free elec­tions. Tur­key is con­demned with its polit­ical pres­sure on media, journ­al­ists and oppos­i­tion parties on the web­site. Moreover, many prom­in­ent news­pa­pers like New York Times and The Eco­nom­ist men­tion this author­it­arian trend (an example: “Creep­ing author­it­ari­an­ism”, The Eco­nom­ist, Jun 10th 2011.
[3] The art­icles regard­ing eco­nomic suc­cess and polit­ical sta­bil­ity have been appear­ing in prom­in­ent art­icles, mostly focus­ing on the rising GDP, debt / GDP ratio, and the declin­ing infla­tion. On the other hand, the infam­ous records of gov­ern­ment in human­it­arian and justice issues can be found in the Free­dom House and Polity Score Index.
[4] Accord­ing to some argu­ments used in the field of polit­ical cul­ture, social and reli­gious factors are the main reas­ons for the enforce­ment of hier­arch­ical struc­ture, right before polit­ical author­it­ari­an­ism (see Welzel and Ingle­hart, ‘Polit­ical Cul­ture, Mass Beliefs and Value Change’). Egal­it­arian soci­et­ies are less likely to pro­duce author­it­arian and cha­ris­matic lead­ers, who are mostly good at pub­lic speak­ing and leadership.
[5] This can be traced from The Polity IV Pro­ject, avail­able at http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm
[6] The Polity Scores rep­res­ent the level of author­it­ari­an­ism by grad­ing coun­tries’ policies from -10, to 10. For example, Tur­key and France are really close to 10, full demo­cracy, while Syria is -10, full auto­cracy. One can trace the rela­tion­ship between the EU mem­ber­ship and author­ity trend by examin­ing this polity score and the trend data. For more inform­a­tion, see http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/pol2.htm (Pol­ish case).

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