Group B Seminar November 14th Greece, Turkey and Cyprus: Quo vadis?

Image is open source and used here for educational purposes:

Above are pictured Greek protesters in front on their national Parliament (the majority of protests have been remarkably peaceful contrary to some media portrayals). The picture has some poignance if we remember that from 1967 to 1974 Greece was ruled by a military dictatorship. Why are they protesting? Greek democracy and membership of the Eurozone has been called into severe question by the ongoing cycles of economic and fiscal crises, austerity policies and now a collapsed government which scrapped a promised referendum, and was replaced by an emergency technical government in November 2011. Parliamentary elections have been scheduled for February 19th 2012.

The exact essay question is:“Evaluate and explain Tocci’s (2007) description of how Greece, Turkey and Cyprus have politically evolved as states, especially in recent decades. In your answer give particular attention to points of similarity and points of difference between these states in how their political systems have changed. Can we simply assume, following her account, that they are converging on a similar future as stable European democracies?”

You will find I’ve added a folder in Blackboard which has some additional material on the case of Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. Most of this stuff is designed to bring you up to date because there have been changes since Tocci’s chapter, written in 2007. Notably Greece is in a profound economic crisis, which threatens her membership of the Euro.

Politically the fall-out associated with this crisis is huge as well, with a discernible rise in eurosceptic sentiment evident, not just on the fringes of the far-right and far left, but also within the ruling parties of the centre-left (PASOK) and New Democracy (centre-right). Greece, if it does have to leave the Eurozone, may well have to also negotiate some kind of temporary suspended membership of the EU, at least under the existing provisions of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Strictly speaking the EU treaties do not have a mechanism by which a member state can exit the Eurozone, instead there is a more general provision whereby a country may choose to negotiate their exit from the EU. This could be used to negotiate some kind of ‘leaving the Eurozone but not entirely the EU’ type of ad hoc agreement.

It seems a bit unlikely now that this is what anyone would want, most of all the Greek political elite. However, there may even be a profound questioning of whether Greek political identity and its future as a state should be so heavily invested with a European project which is seemingly so crisis prone. Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s Greece’s political elite, within PASOK in particular, had distinctive foreign policy interests which meant Greece was more supportive of Serbia for example, Greece also refused to recognize Macedonia, and there have been close enough ties between Russia and elements of the party elite. A major question mark therefore hangs over the state of health of Greek Democracy. As I write this, a technical government has been agreed, but very much under duress of EU pressure: without such a government, it was made clear that EU/IMF emergency funding will simply not be paid. Hardly a very democratic outcome?

The New Democracy party is afraid if they become too associated with any Greek emergency national government, they will not do so well in forthcoming elections. Equally PASOK is trying to extricate itself from a sordid car-crash of the last government. Both are however, members of the temporary technical government. It is interesting that the extreme right-wing party, LAOS (The Popular Orthodox Rally), has been offered and accepted at least one cabinet positions in the new ‘technical’ government. This party has been noted in the past for its critical attitude towards the EU. In the medium term what we may well see is that the two-party stranglehold which both PASOK and New Democracy have enjoyed for so long, may well be challenged by these smaller parties, and there are two challenger parties on the far left of PASOK. This would be a new departure for Greece, and probably would augur somewhat better for democracy in ensuring that the party elites had to share power much more.

As regards the actual essay, it should be obvious that there are at least FOUR parts to it: describing succinctly how these states have evolved in recent years; providing example(s) of similarities; providing example(s) of differences; engaging with the last bit of the question which asks whether we can assume they are all converging on a common future as liberal democracies and presumably members of the EU.

You need to be able to recount the actual story of how these states evolved and notice the focus on recent years. It would be a serious mistake to get bogged down too much in the history of the past centuries. The bottom line is that Greece and now Turkey have made progress towards a rather imperfect version of party based representative democracy. The Greeks managed this as early as the mid 1970s, whereas in Turkey one can really only speak of genuine democracy being consolidated in the last decade.

Central to the Turkish story has been the rise of the Justice and Development (AK) party, which portrays itself as a moderate Islamic party, and which has campaigned to reduce corruption. The history of Turkey since the early 1900s has been fascinating, in that under the ‘great leader’ Atatürk , a secular modernizing regime was fashioned which in fact had some parallels with Italian fascism. The Turkish state was all powerful, and enforced a secular republican order. The army was built up as a key institution, which guaranteed this secular order and also was seen itself as an agent of modernization. The military have engaged in numerous coups in Turkey to ‘protect the state’, notable ones being in 1960 and again in 1980. In 1997 a type of ‘silent coup’ was staged when the military moved army units around in public, suggesting that a coup was about to happen, the result being the collapse of a civilian government led by the moderate Islamist PM Erbakan, who they were unhappy with.

Now however, the AK party has managed to win majorities in mostly fair and free elections, at least three times (and most recently this year where they won 49% of the popular vote, their popularity actually increasing), Thus they have sufficient majority support to form their own government. However, they have lacked sufficient majorities to simply force massive constitutional change, although the AK party have sponsored and won Constitutional amendments in 2007 and 2010 which made Turkey politically much more like a normal democracy. The likely objective of the current AK government will be further constitutional change to move towards a presidential system, a bit like France. There can be no doubt that in government the AK party have pushed the boundaries of the secular constitutional order, but have not fundamentally undermined secularism…at least so far. Importantly, they have under their PM, Erdogan, managed to project a powerful and independent foreign policy   (for example by refusing to participate in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003) which appeals to an underlying strong sense of Turkish nationalism. More recently, it appears that some parts of the military elite are being challenged, and basically removed from power, through a judicial process that ostensibly is about an alleged recent coup plot, but in practice seems to be a mechanism by which those elements of the Turkish military that might want to return to the ‘bad old days’ of threatening coups are sidelined or dismissed.

Currently the Erdogan government enjoys popularity at home and within the wider Middle East. Their approach to the question of EU membership has been equally unique and forceful. On the one hand, they have argued that a moderate Islamic party such as the AK is more or less similar to Christian Democratic Parties, such as found in Germany. This argument is deployed to rubbish the claim that Islam and European models of democracy are incompatible. On the other hand, it is clear that the relationship with the EU has soured badly.

Perhaps 10 years ago the assumption was that Turkey would join the EU, it was just a question of time. Turkey has made progress as regards establishing democratic institutions, but concerns about human rights and press freedoms remain, a worry it might be noted which is not unique to Turkey, but also a feature of other states in the region, notably Israel. However, it seems that rash statements by Sarkozy and Merkel to the effect that Turkey should be offered something short of full membership, a so-called ‘privileged partnership’, indicate that influential party elites in western Europe have effectively turned against the idea of admitting Turkey to the EU, which is seen by them as too big, ambitious and independent to share power easily within the EU. For example, Turkey within the EU would have to be given voting rights comparable to that of France or Germany as it has a population 75 million people-more than France and almost equal to Germany with 82 million persons. One senses these countries are simply unwilling to share that level of power. Note it has been estimated that a large Turkish diaspora already exists in Europe, notably Germany, and this is variously estimated to be about 3 million persons. Ethnic Turkish German citizens already sit inside the Germany parliament for a variety of parties.

Equally, it appears that the AK leadership does not automatically see a future for Turkey that has to be uniquely focused on EU membership. Much of the allure of the EU for Turkish voters, may well be eroded by the recent crisis concerning the Eurozone, which has revealed deep doubts about the extent of political commitment to the wider EU project, and practical problems on agreeing tough decisions. It may well be that a great many Turkish people feel that unless the EU will offer them openly a full status membership, and at that soon, then they should simply refuse to accept second class citizenship status. They may well feel Turkey is large enough to develop its own role in south Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Middle-East.

I think all of that provides you with some food for thought concerning that last bit of the question-the issue of convergence. I might say that one problem with Tocci’s piece is that there is an implicit assumption that all these states will eventually join the EU and everything will be eventually fine as regards their economic and democratic development. This type of crude convergence argument features a lot in older versions of political science. In the 1950s there was an infamous ‘modernization’ thesis which argued that all industrial states were headed towards a similar path of social and economic convergence towards ‘modernity’, which would be it was assumed unquestionably ‘progress’. Eventually, it was assumed, that they would become democratic after a certain stage of development. The idea was of course far too simplistic and mechanistic. However, the basic convergence idea was resurrected after the collapse of Communism to claim that all states would become liberal democracies with free market economies. To which, all one can say is, please tell that to the Chinese Communist Party who preside over the second most powerful economy in the world, but clearly do not follow free market economy rules in any straight forward way, nor is China in any sense democratic as a state.

I think what we see now as regards Greece, Turkey and Cyprus is that we cannot take anything for granted as regards assuming their trajectories of development. Neither can we assume that the EU as a political process is some kind of benign ‘washing machine’ that takes countries in and cleanses away their historic sins, improving their situation and copper-fastening democracy. I might say that many question marks remain about Turkey’s evolution to a fuller democracy: the electoral system is most unsound in having a 10% threshold below which small parties get no seats in Parliament, which effectively keeps Kurdish parties to certain limits.

In fact, in the case of Cyprus, EU membership has been hugely divisive. Greek Cyprus has been allowed join unilaterally, whereas most experts advised that the entire Island should be made join en masse as one unit, using EU membership as a carrot to entice the Greek and Turkish communities to resolve their differences in some complex negotiation that would look a bit like the Belfast Agreement that helped resolve the Northern Ireland conflict. This was formally the EU’s position from 2002 to 2004. However, what happened was that in the end the Greek Cypriot community rejected this, and they rejected power-sharing with the Turkish north and yet they were still let join the EU. Since then, Cyprus has used its privileged position within the EU to needle the Turkish government over the extent to which it is ready to join the EU. Here EU membership has acted as a divisive rather than unifying force. Only very limited trade concessions have been agreed by the EU for Northern Cyprus which is occupied by Turkey, and in effect, the EU has sided with the Greek community in this complex dispute.

Moreover, isn’t it ironic that Turkey’s move to democracy came from within (although the carrot of impending EU membership did play a part as well it might be added). Its also interesting that democratic reforms were pushed for from a moderate Islamic political movement. They did not need EU membership to improve themselves or make Turkey more genuinely democratic. They were quite well able to take that step themselves. Indeed in the short term it is Turkey’s stability as a state that seems much more assured (economic growth in Turkey was close to 8% last year raising fears of their economy overheating!). In contrast, we must note that than the economic basis of Greek and Cypriot democracy is in crisis, and even their membership of a floundering EU is somewhat in question.



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