Gaining full membership

Gaining full membership

While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Europe to meet his Finnish, Swedish, and Polish counterparts, all of whom are members of the European People’s Party (EPP), his deputy chairman Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was in Brussels to end the Justice and Development (AK) Party’s membership in the EPP by switching to the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) instead.

The AK Party joined the EPP in 2004 as an observer member, as Mr. Çavuşoğlu puts it, “with written and verbal promises” of full membership from Brussels. However, the promise of full membership was never realized due to the objections of some EPP members. According to Mr. Çavuşoğlu, the “crisis of confidence” that this broken promise has caused is the main reason behind the break up.

The story of the AK Party within the EPP overwhelmingly resembles that of Turkey in the European Union (EU). So much so that, if the words AK Party and the EPP are replaced with Turkey and the EU respectively within the above, the text we have would not be far off from the truth.

The question is then; will the two stories continue to resemble each other in the future, and if so, what can be argued for the future of the EU-Turkey relations from this analogy?

Operating at the EU level, European political parties bring together national political parties and individuals around broad ideological bases. With respect to ideology, the EPP and the AECR have a lot in common. They are both center-right and conservative parties that share principles such as individual freedom, environmentalism, and subsidiarity.

Moreover, both have strong opponents against Turkey’s accession into the EU among their members. 
The EPP is one of the oldest and largest of parties at the European level; it has the lion’s share in each of the three institutions of the EU. For example, out of 28 heads of state or governments within the European Council, 14 political leaders are affiliated with the EPP. Furthermore, the Presidents of the Council and the Commission are also from this party. In this sense, opponents among the members of the EPP are likely to have political power in their hands as well, such as Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, and her Christian Democratic Union.

On the other hand, the AECR, founded only in 2009, is one of the youngest Europarties. The only member of AECR that heads a government in the EU is the British Conservative Party, which is known for being a proponent of Turkey’s accession. In other words, although not all members of the AECR support Turkey’s membership, opponents among the ranks of the AECR are those who have considerably less power in the EU’s decision making process.

Still, the divide between the two parties goes much further than that. It is their vision for the future of the Union that separates them the most. While the EPP wants to continue to construct a European Political Union, the AECR aims to radically reform the EU in order to reinstate the sovereignty of nation states. This is one of the reasons why the latter is largely labeled as a Euro-skeptic party. For instance, the AECR intends to delete the phrase “an ever closer” from the EU treaty - a flagship expression to which the members of the EPP are fully committed.

The AK Party waited almost a decade to become a member of the EPP before it decided to switch Europarties. Likewise, Turkey has been waiting for over five decades to become a member of the EU that has been dominated by the EPP since the beginning of the millennium. However, switching is not an option for Turkey as there is only one EU. It can be transformed rather, and AK Party’s position, especially with the resumed negotiation process, with regards to the AECR’s will and effort to transform the EU deserves a closer look.

It is not surprising the AK Party has found it easier to become a full member of a Europarty that wants to create a reformed, to a certain extent deconstructed, and loose Union of sovereign states. It would not be surprising if Turkey will have found it easier one day to become a member of such a Union.

Resul Ümit, PhD Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna