Turkey-EU ties in the new world disorder

Turkey-EU ties in the new world disorder

For quite some time we have been observing the end of the Western-dominated era and a worldwide shift toward a multipolar system. Along the way, the liberal democratic order seems to be unraveling. But it is still too early to define the basic characteristics of the emerging new world order.

It is clear that the international organizations, as well as the norms and values that helped to build the post-war liberal democratic order, have been questioned. In particular, the transatlantic alliance that committed itself to upholding liberal democratic principles is currently experiencing a nadir.

In parallel to economic stagnation and rising income inequality within states, we have been witnessing a global rise in populism and far-right politics. Living through a period of growing risks and uncertainties, disorder seems to be the order of the day.

Against this background, the eighth Annual Seminar of the Institut du Bosphore took place in Istanbul on Oct. 18-19, during which over 100 participants from France, Germany and Turkey’s political, intellectual and business spheres gathered to discuss heated topics regarding the future of Europe, Turkey and the “new world disorder.”

On the sidelines of one panel, “Globalization: Uploading, Please Wait,” I spoke to Koç University Professor Ziya Öniş about the growing discontent with globalization, the rise of global populism and its impact on Turkey-EU relations.

“Recent research suggests that the process of rapid globalization over the past few decades has led to a decline in interstate inequality, as countries of the global South have managed to achieve rapid growth, reducing the significant gaps between the living standards of North and South. At the same time, however, intra-state inequality seems to be on the rise, especially in advanced countries,” says Öniş.

In this respect, the 2008 economic crisis marks a historical turning point in the rise of populist movements. Since the financial crisis, Öniş has observed a reaction to globalization in the form of fragmentation at several distinct levels that have fueled uncertainty and insecurity. The tensions, frictions and counter reactions of this era of fragmentation, which Öniş describes as the “new age of anxiety,” present formidable challenges to the future of liberal democracy.

While the resentment of the disadvantaged masses, (the “losers of globalization”), is an important factor in the rise of populist politics, the emergence of alternative economic development models - such as the strategic capitalism led by China – has also contributed to the global retreat of the liberal democratic order.

“The Chinese success illustrates the fact that capitalist transformation can be accomplished in a highly authoritarian environment. The Chinese model is thus particularly attractive not only to established autocratic regimes such as those in Central Asia but also to illiberal, majoritarian ones with growing authoritarian tendencies in the European periphery,” Öniş said.

While economic concerns seem to have triggered the tide of populism, Öniş argues that the problem is actually threefold. It’s not just economic worries that should be taken into account when evaluating the growing hostility toward minorities and immigrants, but security concerns and cultural factors as well.

This is especially true in Europe, where the increased frequency of terrorist attacks and refugee influxes have fueled identity-related issues and led to a questioning of pro-integrationist policies within the EU.

But this creates a paradox for Europe, Öniş argues. As the EU becomes more introverted, it loses its global role and influence in shaping political developments. Even though populist politicians have so far successfully turned this resentment into votes, in the long run their quick-fix solutions will not eradicate deeply seated economic problems that require structural reforms, he says.

In the meantime, however, it is very likely that center-right politicians who face political pressure may feel obliged to shift toward the far right to expand their political base, meaning that the threat of populism is far from over.

Turkey is not immune to the global tide of populist movements either.

Currently the stalemate in Turkey-EU relations seems almost impossible to overcome given the irreconcilable perceptions of the sides about the root causes of the conflicts.

But Öniş is not so pessimistic. To a certain extent, the future of Turkey-EU ties depends on the direction of international developments, he says. Now that an election cycle has ended in Europe, it is time for a healthier debate on the future of the post-Brexit EU.

A more flexible model, such as a “multi-gear” or “multi-speed” Europe, which would enable member states to integrate at different levels, may offer a better foundation to redefine Turkey-EU relations – with the proviso that Turkey also takes constructive steps toward embracing its membership perspective.

Opinion, Selin Nasi, European Union,