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PANEL | Fault Lines in the European Union

After the publication of its special issue “Fault Lines in the European Union: Brexit, Populism and Divergences,” Insight Turkey has organized a panel where experts will share their perspectives on the current problems of the EU.

PANEL Fault Lines in the European Union

 EU Panel


Muhittin Ataman, Insight Turkey




Simon Bulmer, University of Sheffield

Çiğdem Nas, Yıldız Technical University

Ali Resul Usul, Medipol University


Simon Bulmer

Simon Bulmer talked about the crisis Europe has been having, Brexit and its possible results and likely scenarios that await Europe. Professor Bulmer mentioned that Europe has been dealing with different problems approximately for ten years and Brexit might not be the most important one. Germany and challenges to Germany’s hegemony in the EU have been the focus of Professor Bulmer’s speech.

From a historical perspective, Germany has always been important for the EU integration. Back then, there were East and West Germany, NATO was an important actor in the Atlantic and there was Franco-German cooperation. After the Cold War, Germany has promised a liberal economic order. However, with Putin in Russia, Trump Presidency in the U.S. and rising populism put everything Germany has cared for is in danger.

After Helmut Kohl left chancellory, internal politics has gained importance in Germany. Germany expert Peter Katzenstein said that Germany is a tamed power and contrary to the previous World Wars, it will not show an aggression. However, events in 2010s such as Ukraine crisis, Trump’s presidency and rising populism have made Germany a focus. The important question here is who will be the decision maker on behalf of the EU, will that be the European Parliament or the heads of governments?

Bulmer’s argument here is that Merkel’s term comes close and for that reason, it is difficult to predict what will happen in the future. However there are three likely scenarios, first, a Franco-German cooperation with the strengthening of Macron; second, Germany becoming a hegemon with the help of its structural and economic power; and third, a slow disintegration of the EU.

On March 24, Britain will leave the EU but the negotiations came to a deadlock. Until this summer Britain did not know what it expects from the negotiations. Britain was already a difficult member for the EU; it did not join the Eurozone and Schengen. Maybe the exit of Britain will be easy for the EU and the cooperation will only continue on security issues. In the end, Germany will be exposed, it will lose one of its most important allies who is a global and economic power. Germany will have to deal with budget problems in the EU more.

Germany’s most important qualities are its structural power and economic power, it has a budget surplus. However, sometimes, it lacks diplomatic power. It is a reluctant hegemon, not ready to spend more money on the Union. It has order capitalism and declares that markets should work in a certain framework. However, Southern European states are not ready for that. There are also problems with legitimacy. Some German ideas are not well-received. There was a substantial support for the EU in Germany after the Cold War, however, nowadays Alternative for Germany comes into play and they have become the main opposition party, even though they did not get many votes. The German government is relatively weak and there is a force that challenges them. The government deals with the integration of the migrants, Trump, and the global economy.

When one says the Brexit will strengthen the EU, it is hypothetical. Overall, one of the four big powers leaves the EU. German hegemony is a possibility; Franco-German cooperation, on the other hand, is something Germany cannot promise.


Çiğdem Nas

Çiğdem NasÇiğdem Nas talked about the intra-EU developments and the relationship between Turkey and the EU. At the beginning of the 2000s, there was an EU that looks at the membership of Turkey with hope. There was a discussion as to what kind of an EU there should be, so a European convention has been gathered and a constitution for the EU has been established. There was a EU that has the vision to incorporate Turkey. However the agreement which has the characteristics of a constitution has been rejected in the Netherlands and Germany, this was a significant challenge for the future. 2008 economic crisis, the Euro crisis in the 2010s and its effect on countries like Greece, Ukraine crisis and refugee crisis have pressured the EU and harmed the solidarity principle within the EU and holistic integration. The EU has developed a tight monetary policy that requires strict adherence to Maastricht criteria (EU Fiscal Compact). However, tight monetary policy and fiscal discipline aggravated states to meet the expectations and paint them in a corner since they have to cut from the social sphere. Both left-wing and right-wing parties were against the EU on different grounds and with the decrease of center-parties’ power to steer the politics, there has been a political crisis in the EU. In the beginning, the EU has continued integration as with the eastern expansion and did not see the outside factors as a big threat. However, today, countries which accepted the Copenhagen Criteria, developed ideas that are against the EU and they stopped being compliant in the EU. The EU wanted to open a new page but cultural and economic differences, old enmities arose from the eastern expansion made this impossible. Franco-German axis has no longer been powerful and many states are against the hegemony of Germany.

There is a possibility of returning to more flexible structures, specific, tailor-made solutions for each country. It is not that easy to give up on the EU. There are enormous benefits that the EU provides and for that reason even a big power like Britain has a troubled exit process.

When we come to Turkey-EU relationship, the EU’s own problematic structure and their views about the expansion affected Turkey. Promises that some countries did not carry out and countries developing different opinions once they enter the EU makes Turkey’s job difficult. Turkey is a country that the EU needs in security and cooperation issues. The EU wants to manage Turkey issue with secondary mechanisms. There is the Customs Union; however, it does not work as intended. With the update of the Customs Union Agreement, it is possible to correct articles that both parties criticize and to further promote integration.

However, the EU preventing improvement for political reasons is an important issue. Even the Customs Union update is prevented because of that. For example, the EU criticizes Turkey for the fundamental rights and freedoms issue but they could solve this issue by opening articles of law instead of suspending the negotiations.

Turkey also needs the EU. Before the Arab Spring Turkey aimed to open up to the Middle East but after the Arab Spring it has been difficult because of the security issue. We now have an opportunity to save the relationship with the EU from constant crisis and tension.


Ali Resul Usul

Ali Resul UsulAli Resul Usul talked about a new discussion topic about the EU. A new fault line in the EU has emerged with the emergence of China, especially after the 2000s. China’s ambitious projects such as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have an effect on the EU.

The EU, from its beginning, is a homogenization and integration project. Their motto is unity within diversity. The tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces exists from the beginning. Nowadays, there are developments in favor of centrifugal forces. Fault lines always existed in the EU but 2004 expansion deepened those lines. Today, there are still problems with the integration of Eastern European countries. It does not mean that the EU will promptly disintegrate. The future will show whether these worries will come true or not. The latest example of this tension is the decision that the European Parliament has taken about Hungary. After that Poland and Hungary conciliated, there is the solidarity of centrifugal forces against centripetal forces.

An important thing is the emergence of China as a global actor. China’s investments in Europe are not new, but there is a new and ambitious project, the BRI. Even though the project is ambiguous, it aims to rejuvenate the historical Silk Road. There are six land roads and one sea road. The one that interests Turkey and the EU is China-Middle East-Western Asia corridor.

China does not have a general policy about the EU. It intentionally does not address the EU and makes agreements on bilateral relations. For China, from the EU member states, Poland, Hungary and Greece; and from non-member states, Serbia is important for them. They have important projects in those countries such as the Budapest-Belgrade Project, Pupin Bridge and Pire Port in which China operates 67 percent of it.

What is the aim of this grand project? According to China, it is a win-win for everyone. However, experts put emphasis on a number of reasons, such as, to sell the goods resulting from the over-production, to decrease the tension between the East and West of China, to increase the usage of yen in the world and energy security.

The EU also does not have a China policy. They do not trust China, but China invests a lot of money in Europe and European powers do not want to lose that. They have four doubts: what is the real goal of China, is China able to actualize these projects, national security, and a distrust that China will not obey the EU standards and regulations.

 You can watch the full panel session via YouTube.   

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