This brief commentary assesses the progress made by Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (the AK Party) toward European Union (EU) membership and democratization. While it acknowledges positive steps, it notes that the goals of EU accession and democratic consolidation remain elusive. One consideration is that the expectations or “goalposts” for both have moved so that, relative to the objectives of those supporting democratic freedoms and Europeanization, progress in Turkey has still been rather modest. While the democratization package of September 2013 offers some hope for democratization, it remains difficult to see substantial progress in terms of joining the EU.
This article examines how the Turks’ views of the European Union align with notions of a center-periphery cleavage in Turkish politics. Traditionally, pro-European views have been associated with the more prosperous, better-educated “center,” whereas the rural, less educated and more religious Turks of the “periphery” have been less supportive of aspects of Europeanization. Examination of 2002 survey data finds that more religious voters were less supportive of the EU. However, analysis from a similar survey done in 2006 finds the religious factor to be insignificant whereas education, typically associated with the “center,” is now related to negative feelings toward the EU. This turnabout is reflected as well in the positions of Turkey’s two major parties and can be attributed to how each side of this cleavage views the benefits of closer ties to the EU.