Turkish EU bid could be cure to Europe’s growing far right

Turkish EU bid could be cure to Europe’s growing far right

Turkish EU bid could be cure to Europe’s growing far right

Photos Levent Kulu

Last week’s EU elections might have catapulted far right, anti-Turkish euroskeptics into Parliament, but Ankara’s moribund bid to join the 28-nation club could actually provide an antidote to such extremist parties, according to a Turkish scholar.

“Turkey’s membership would mean a serious increase of an Islamic population within the EU; that will no longer be an issue of a foreign threat,” said Ahmet İnsel, noting that Turkey in Europe would lead to a normalization period putting paid to clichés of Christian Europe versus Middle Eastern Islam.

At the same time, Turkey could only join the EU if there are “two circles” of different levels of EU integration, he said.

What do the European Parliament election results tell us about Europe?

The European Parliament is not creating enthusiasm among the European electorate. This is not new; but the fact that there is a disconnection between the European Parliament and the electorate has been consolidated. But the lack of interest is not at the level of getting out of the EU. This is about the gap between expectations created by the EU and those provided by being a member of the EU.

What should we expect as to the future of the EU?

The cost and the chaos of getting out of the EU are higher than the present one. It can continue this way, with the discontent rising and with even mainstream parties distancing themselves from the EU. But I rather foresee an EU with two circles.

The inner circle will be made up of those accepting political integration; those endorsing the eurozone. The outer circle will be made up of those who see the EU as a common market and cooperation, like the United Kingdom, Denmark and perhaps some Scandinavian countries.

If we were to focus on countries like France where the extreme right is on the rise, this is not only due to euroskepticism; it also has to do with immigration and Islamophobia.

Xenophobia is not new; it was there in the early 20th century. There were also problems with immigration in the past, with Italian migrants for instance. The reason why France cannot currently absorb these issues points to the presence of another problem. French society is going through the shock of losing the position of being an international power. There is a civilizational decline; a shock at seeing an erosion at being the main universal reference for civilizational benchmarks. This is not only symbolic but also economic. There is fear as to the future. We see that in most of the Western European countries: a syndrome of civilizational failure. But this is only natural; countries cannot keep their dominant position for a long time. The chances of Europe opting for federal integration will increase if the conviction that “we can’t handle it alone” becomes stronger.

Where do you see Turkey in this picture?

Turkey is further distancing itself from Europe. Some of the reasons are related to Turkey.  The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and [Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are being perceived more and more as the obstacle to Turkey’s EU membership. This is a point used by those against Turkish membership, but at the same time, Erdoğan has become the object of reaction of those who favor Turkey’s EU bid.  Erdoğan does everything to fuel this situation. There is nearly a tacit agreement; Erdoğan provokes those against Turkey to be even more reactionary and thus uses the same strategy of victimhood he uses in Turkey on the European scene, too. He says, “We want to enter the EU, but they don’t want it because of Islamophobia.” That’s why I am concerned that too much emphasis on Islamophobia is creating the rhetoric of victimhood. Erdoğan will hide his unwillingness, saying, “They don’t want us; because we are Muslims” and consolidate his electorate with this rhetoric.

Does the rise in extreme right in Europe benefit Erdoğan?

Partially. But interestingly, he also said, “Turkish membership is the panacea for the rising extreme right in Europe. This is an interesting and not an incorrect argument. The Greens and Socialists in Europe have been saying this, but it is not enough just to voice this argument. It is quite difficult for Turkey to make progress toward the EU in the current domestic tension.

Many believe the prime minister is consolidating his power base by fueling contention. The rise in the extreme right in Europe could suit him, as he registers political gains with politics of confrontation.

In the short term, yes. But he is making political gains as far as the Turkish electorate is concerned. The cost of tension with the EU is being paid by the Turkish electorate. If the Turkish electorate says ‘yes’ to seeing the EU door close, then tension with the EU could be beneficial.

What does the Turkish electorate say?

Recent polls suggest the support for the EU is around 43 percent. With the undecided; those who say no are less.

Where exactly does the AKP stand on Turkey’s EU bid? It is giving contradictory messages.

The AKP is the synthesis of the confusion that exists in Turkey about the EU. It’s not just the AKP, but Turkey is confused about entry into the EU. Until the mid-2000s, the AKP followed an active policy of [trying to] enter the EU, while the left was rather against it. Turkish society fears the loss of its identity, yet there is also the aspiration to be a big power. On the one hand, it wants to take part in the club of the rich which the EU represents and join in the wealth; but on the other hand, there is concern about the transfer of sovereignty.

You said the argument that Turkey’s membership in the EU could be a cure for the rise of the extreme right in Europe is not a wrong one; can you elaborate?

Turkey’s membership means a serious increase of an Islamic population within the EU; that will no longer be an issue of a foreign threat. It means the EU will no longer be the castle defending Christian civilization against barbaric Islam. This would mean the beginning of a normalization period.

You said Turkey is distancing itself from the EU; will that trend continue in the short to medium term?

We can’t know. It depends on Turkey’s domestic politics and how the Kurdish issue will be solved. Developments in Ukraine pushed Turkey toward the EU. International developments are equally important. I think Turkey will be a member when there is a Europe with two circles. This will be more comfortable for both sides.

In this case; if the rise of euroskeptics leads to the creation of a European Union with two circles, this could then end up well for Turkey. Euroskeptics could indirectly open the way to Turkish membership.

That’s right. It can’t go on like this. In a Europe with two circles, Turkey’s membership could be more easily digested. Let’s not forget that if Turkey were to become a member, it would be the biggest in the EU, population-wise. This is not something that can be easily accepted by Germany and France.

Who is Ahmet İnsel?


Ahmet İnsel was born in 1955. He obtained his doctoral degree in 1982 from Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University’s economy faculty, becoming a member of the same university’s academic staff in 1984. He joined Galatasaray University in Istanbul in 2001.

He currently writes for the journal Birikim and is also a member of the publication board at İletişim Publishing.

He is the author of several books, including “A critic of economic ideology; Dialogue on the Armenian taboo;” “Neoliberalism: The new language of hegemony” and “Turkey in the trap of order and development.”

His articles are frequently published in newspapers.