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Democratization and Relations with the EU in the AK Party Period: Is Turkey Really Making Progress?

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.

Democratization and Relations with the EU in the AK Party
European Council chief Herman Van Rompuy (R) and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan review an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara. AFP
 

Over a decade ago, when the AK Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi [Justice and Development Party]) came to power in Turkey, hopes were high in many quarters that this was the dawn of a “new” Turkey.1 While the AK Party had Islamist roots and was distrusted by many in the secular establishment, its leaders boasted that the AK Party stood for “conservative democracy,” including a commitment to universal values of freedom.2 In the early 2000s, the AK Party was also arguably the most pro-European Union (EU) of all Turkish political parties, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proclaiming that Turkey would continue with reforms to meet EU criteria and aimed to make Europe’s values “Ankara’s values.”3

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