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The President, the Preacher and Turkey's EU Accession Since 2005

Natalie Martin

This paper argues that the EU's inability to sustain momentum in the Turkey-EU accession process after 2005 created the space for illiberality to flourish thereafter in Turkey to the ultimate detriment of the EU's own geostrategic interests. The reason why this happened was that the AKP government lost confidence in the EU's willingness to push the accession process forward in the face of considerable opposition from France and Germany, as well as Cyprus, and this in turn reduced the incentive for the AKP to implement the increasingly unpopular reforms necessary to meet the Copenhagen criteria. The effect was that the accession process began to grind to a halt and the liberal record of the AKP to drift. After the second general election victory in 2007 this trend was cemented as the AKP set about consolidating its power base against the two main scrutinising institutions in Turkish society - the military and the media. This was done with punitive and highly dubious use of tax laws and terrorism legislation through Ergenekon and other similar "investigations". This paper will examine the role of the Cemaat movement of Fetullah Gulen and its well-placed followers within the judiciary and police service in this process. It will also ask what the consequences of this have been. It concludes that the EU institutions were slow to acknowledge the AKP's "authoritarian drift" and are now paying the geostrategic consequences of this in dealings with Turkey and the Islamic State as well as other issues such as people trafficking and energy pipelines. Turkey is currently as far away from meeting the Copenhagen criteria as it has ever been. Yet the EU - institutions and member states - missed many opportunities to stem the illiberal trend and were naïve in their approach to the AKP. In so doing Brussels missed a crucial opportunity to temper the excesses of the Erdogan government and keep accession on track.

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