Haci Halil Uslucan about the Turkish-European Relations

The political situation between Turkey and Europe is currently very tense. The Turkish government has created quite a stir on a number of occasions by making provocative comments against Germany and the Netherlands. Yet it is precisely these two countries that have taken in Turkish migrants for decades. NECE spoke to Professor Haci Halil Uslucan, Professor for Modern Turkish Studies and Integration Research at Duisburg-Essen University about the threat to democracy and Turkey's prospects of joining the EU.

Turkish immigrants living in Germany, Hamburg, voted for a possible constitutional change on April 9, 2017. (© picture-alliance/dpa, Markus Scholz)

NECE: Prof. Uslucan, the referendum in Turkey was decided in favour of Erdogan by a narrow margin. How do you interpret the result?

Prof. Uslucan: The result of the referendum was very close with 51.4 percent against 48.6 percent of the votes in favour of the 'yes' supporters. Despite the massive obstruction and intimidation of the opposition, despite the questionable circumstances – also criticized by the OSCE observers – in which the referendum was held, the lead was so narrow that it must be regarded as a moral victory for the opposition. It remains to be seen whether the opposition will re-consolidate in the next few years, possibly even in alliance with AKP members and supporters who do not want to follow Erdogan's course any longer. We also do not know what impact the economic downturn Turkey is currently experiencing will have on the political landscape in the years to come. I think the glass is still not half empty but half full.

NECE: What do you think has caused the deterioration in relations between Turkey and the most important EU countries?

Prof. Uslucan: All the signs are pointing towards the outcome of the referendum in Turkey being very close. In this context, the "creation of an external enemy" and the perceived threat associated with it is greatly strengthening the nationalist lobby. Banning Turkish officials from speaking is seen as a limitation of democratic rights, which – they claim – puts the repression taking place in Turkey into perspective because countries claiming to be democratic are dealing with "inconvenient" stances in exactly the same way.

NECE: How is this tension affecting Turkish immigrants and their perception of the Turkish government? Is the traditional assumption correct that nearly all Turkish immigrants support the course adopted by Erdogan's government?

Prof. Uslucan: This is bound to affect attitudes towards Turkish immigrants. However, it would be wrong to assume that all Turkish immigrants support Erdogan. Exactly the opposite is the case: there are around 3 million Turkish immigrants in Germany, 1.4 million of whom hold a Turkish passport and are hence entitled to vote (in Turkey). Around 580,000 (approx. 41 percent) of them went to the polls at the last elections. Around 340,000 voted for the AKP (Justice and Development Party). However, they only represent around 11 to 12 percent of the total of 3 million Turkish immigrants, which is a clear minority.

NECE: Do you have any idea how can we find a way out of this impasse? What should civil society platforms such as NECE do?

Prof. Uslucan: This is precisely where they could continue the dialogue with the diverse community of Turkish immigrants; of all countries, Germany is best poised to create a platform for the many dissenting voices. It would be important, in particular, also to engage in a dialogue with AKP supporters in order to highlight the threat to democracy and cultural-religious diversity in Turkey in a mutual dialogue that is devoid of defamation.

NECE: Do you agree with the comments made by Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel that it will not be possible for Turkey to join the EU in the foreseeable future?

Prof. Uslucan: The real question is what he means by the foreseeable future; I do not see this happening for the next 6 to 8 years either. However, integrating Turkey more effectively into Europe is the very thing that can prevent a departure from democracy and Turkey's western orientation.

More about the topic:

International Referendum Observation Mission, Republic of Turkey – Constitutional Referendum, 16 April 2017 (OSCE)
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