A liberal wedding for the AKP?
ANGELO SANTAGOSTINOThe move by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to join the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECD) as a full member, leaving the European’s People Party (EPP), has been criticized both in the European Union and in Turkey. Internal criticism questions the wisdom of leaving the EPP, where members supporting Ankara’s bid for membership, like the Italians, Spanish, Polish and Swedish, are found. Furthermore, leaving the EPP could stiffen the anti-Turkish stance of French and Germans members.
The external criticism, stemming from pro-EU political groups in the European Parliament, focuses on the AECD’s euro-skeptic character. One might conclude that the AKP’s choice could make the already-difficult path toward Europe more problematic. However, the AECD’s political offer and its compatibility with the AKP’s one should be taken into consideration.
The AECD includes the liberal components of the European Parliament. It is the sole genuine liberal political group, as the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Europeans (the third group in Strasburg) program and action is strongly biased toward the two major parties. The AECD’s members define themselves as euro-realist more than euro-skeptic. As far as economic policy is concerned, their agenda looks like a liberal manifesto. Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation and lower taxation are their fundamental principles. They consider the single European market as the best asset of the EU. They, therefore, strive for its completion, as the free circulation of services is still far from being achieved. Barriers to making European businesses more competitive and measures to eliminate red tape are also part of their action for more economic freedom in the European single market. Action to break down barriers to start and expand a company – and more generally European competitiveness; and action to expand the participation of small and medium enterprises in the single market by improving their access to capital markets and removing fiscal and administrative barriers are just some examples of the liberal-type measures that the AECD is backing.
Turning from economic policy to individual and human rights, in the conservative and reformist agenda, we find issues like the importance of the family as the bedrock of society, freedom of the individual, personal responsibility and freedom of thought. Again principles which are typical of liberal culture, as economic and political liberties go hand in hand, representing a marriage where separation is out of question.
The main success story of the AKP’s rule in Turkey lies, certainly, in the strong economic development of the past 10 years. A process which has been possible thanks to the liberal approach typical of it.
Turkish economic performance has essentially been a market- and business-led one. In this light, the affinity between the AKP and the AECD is strong and consequently promising. As far as the full membership of the AKP will improve affinities with AECD in extra-economic matters, such as human and individual rights, the move can only be considered as positive and something to facilitate Turkey’s journey toward full EU membership. The opening of the fundamental Chapters 23 and 24, dealing with freedoms and democracy, could actually be facilitated.
Some controversial issues are present in the new European house of the AKP. The most relevant is sovereignty. Here the British concept of economic and political integration, based on intergovernmental cooperation with a bare minimum of supranationalism or shared sovereignty is dominant. A minimum not including, for instance, the single currency, the euro, which is essential to ensure the smooth working of the single market. At least in Turkey’s accession phase, the strong points appear to prevail over the weak ones.
The new AKP’s collocation in the European concerto of parties could contribute to reinforce the liberal feature of EU’s economic policies and, in a feedback effect, strengthen freedom and democracy in Turkey.
Angelo Santagostino is a professor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara.