The linguistics of Turkey-EU relations

The linguistics of Turkey-EU relations

The Economic Development Foundation (İKV) has been conducting an eye-opening series of studies on Turkey-EU relations. The first, examining the “mathematics” of the European Commission’s progress reports on Turkey, was released last year; the second, examining the “linguistics” of the reports, was recently made public.

Not including this year’s report, the European Commission has prepared a total of 17 annual progress reports so far, amounting to a total of 1,786 pages. According to the İKV study, the five most frequently terms used in the reports are “human rights,” “energy,” “investments,” “unemployment” and “administrative capacity.” With 981 references, it is no surprise that “human rights” is the first most frequently used term, but it is perhaps surprising to see “energy” as the second most frequent. Indeed, energy is by far the most important area where Turkey can prove to the EU that it could be an asset to the 28-nation bloc, but it remains one of the areas where cooperation - in other words, accession talks - are blocked due to the Cyprus impasse.

The fact that “investments” and “unemployment” are among the top five must be indicative of the fact that they remain among the thorniest issues in the accession process.

In the human rights category, “torture” and “freedom of expression” are listed as the second and third most frequently used words. It is interesting to see torture so high on the agenda, as although bad treatment remains a problem, Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments have registered considerable improvements in eradicating torture in Turkey.

While we in Turkey barely talked about corruption until news of the December 2014 police investigations broke out, corruption seems to have always been high on the EU agenda, as it is the first most frequently used term under the category of democracy. It is followed by “transparency” and “political parties.” 

Meanwhile, the EU is right to view political parties as one of the key problems affecting Turkish democracy. The fact that the leaders of the three opposition parties at parliament refused to resign, despite their poor performance at the last general election, show how central the problem of political parties is.
The three most frequently used terms on the Kurdish issue give us an idea about how the EU views this problem: The “use of languages other than Turkish,” “Kurdish language,” and “mother tongue.” It seems that the EU focuses on the language dimension of the issue and opts to steer clear of Kurdish demands on administrative issues, which might go beyond the area covered by the Copenhagen criteria.

On the Cyprus issue, again there is focus on technical issues like internally displaced persons and missing persons, which appear as the first and third most commonly used words in progress reports. The free movement of goods carried by vessels and aircraft registered in Cyprus comes second, which is not surprising as the ban on their entry to Turkey remains the main reason why the EU has blocked talks on eight accession chapters.

In addition, the top 10 emerging issues - or the phrases that have increased in frequency over the years - are as follows: “Detention,” “Roma population,” “ombudsman,” “financing of terrorism,” “political reforms,” “domestic violence,” “internally displaced persons,” “judicial reform package,” “Gezi protests” and “social media.” There is little surprise here, as with a few exceptions these are among the most important issues on Turkey’s domestic agenda.

The phrases that have diminished in frequency in recent years are as follows: “Administrative capacity,” “protection of minorities,” “privatization,” “National Security Council,” “cultural rights,” “death penalty,” “Copenhagen criteria” and “Article 301.” It is indeed quite comforting to see that some of these issues are no longer problematic, thanks to democratic reforms undertaken in the first years of the AKP’s rule.

The İKV study also reveals that the three permanent issues - or the terms whose frequency has remained consistent over the years - are “human rights,” “Cyprus” and “public procurement.” The latter should not come as a surprise, as it is one of the priority areas of the EU and there has been some backsliding on that issue in Turkey.

Honor killings, the 10 percent election threshold, freedom of religion, and the independence of the judiciary also remain permanent issues.

Obviously, things are much more complicated than simple statistics when it comes to Turkey-EU relations. Nevertheless, the study still gives us a rough picture of the state of affairs in relations between the two sides, as well as the state of democracy and human rights in the country. 

Nowadays one of the most important issues in relations is that of migration, or refugees. According to the study, “migration” is the third most frequently used term in progress reports under the category of security, preceded by “asylum” and “police.” 

There is no doubt that the refugee issue will remain high on the agenda in the short term. We can only hope it will not make it to the top of the list of permanent issues in future progress reports.