The Role of Europeanization in Modern Turkey

By Ayşe Tecmen | 26 September 2011

To quote this document: Ayşe Tecmen, “The Role of Europeanization in Modern Turkey”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Monday 26 September 2011,, displayed on 03 February 2023

Some EU officials argue that the result of enlargement may not be as important as the process. Indeed, acceeding to the EU implies a significant metamorphosis from the applicants: to comply with the Helsinki criteria (state of law, resistant free-economy, respect of human rights, respect of the acquis communautaire, etc), to get “europeanized”, adaptation is the only way possible. What shape does this transformation take, especially in Turkey ?

In the aftermath of the Helsinki Summit of 1999, owing to the increasing role of the EU as an anchor for reform, one can observe that Europe/Europeanization and EU/EUization became two separate concepts with distinct habitats of meaning. The meanings attached to these concepts differ on which of Turkey's dimensions dimension the process aims to reform. Europeanization can be defined as a long standing transformation process on the societal level with regards to the spread of “European” norms in particular policies, political procedures or societal self-definitions (as demonstrated by Tocci in Europeanization in “Turkey: Trigger or Anchor for Reform?”). “EUization”, on the other hand, is closely linked to the EU harmonization efforts hence it refers to the technical and structural transformation of the political and legal systems with regards to the implementation of the acquis communautaire (according to Kaliber, in “On Three Main Paradigms Problematising Turkish Modernization").

While these processes are different in terms of their target dimensions, one can also observe that they both converge in regards to being tools in Turkey’s quest to modernize herself in her striveto be acknowledged as a European country. While Europe and the EU both constitute influential and motivating forces in Turkey’s modernization process, recently, one can observe that the Euro-American hegemony in the conceptualization of modernity has been debated and challenged by scholars who argue that in fact a prototype for modernity cannot be assumed to be pertinent to all transformation processes, hence coining the term multiple modernities. For instance, Eisenstadt’s definition of modernity, or rather modernities, relies heavily on the role of the human agency as a reflexive entity which has the critical ability to internalize, interpret and reconstruct thus leading to multiple forms of cultural programs which indicate the influence of individual and collective actors on modernization.

Accordingly, the literature on Turkish modernity and the modernization process have been adamant in replacing the role of the human agency as a self-reflexive and critical being, with a deterministic approach which has not only eliminated the progressive and multifaceted nature of modernity but also ignored the function of protestations in reinterpreting and restructuring political, social and cultural realities.

In congruence with the fieldwork that was carried by Prof. Ayhan Kaya in the scope of the FP7 Project titled “Identities and Modernities in Europe”, one of the most important findings was that the respondents focused on how the social and cultural realities were different in Turkey and in European countries but still maintained a great deal of self reflexivity and critical attitudes towards the status quo. Some respondents focused on Europe as “the other” while referring to the limitations of cultural and social transformations that “the other” can initiate. To that effect, they also indicated that this process of becoming something that you are not (-isation) is a dangerous transformation as it implies the loss of authentic and local cultures and values.

In that sense, EUization when dealing with the proposed transformation of the political and institutional structure can best be defined as a political modernity which relies on the strength of universal rights and principles, which are established and protected by a strong legal framework founded on an efficiently functioning structure. On the other hand, modernization, cannot transpire with the implementation of the institutional structure since the values and norms that are common in Western Europe are often founding principles of the said system. In fact, this reductionist approaches taken towards Europeanization and EUization show that these processes do not and cannot constitute models for Turkish modernization. Moreover, the imposition of this model when taken into accountthe rapid structural reformation in the early 2000s and the lack of internalization and implementation indicate that individuals and collective actors are the key actors in the modernization of Turkey. To that effect, Turkish modernity which has come to rely on and be shaped by the societal protestations and tensions can be considered an alternative model to the classical understanding of Western modernity.


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On Nouvelle Europe website

To read

  • KALIBER, Alper (2002). “Türk Modernleşmesini Sorunsallaştıran Üç Ana Paradigma Üzerine”, (On Three Main Paradigms Problematising Turkish Modernization) in Türkiye’de Modernleşme ve Batıcılık (Modernization and Westernism in Turkey). Istanbul: Iletişim Yayinlari: 107-125.
  • TOCCI, Natalie (2005). Europeanization in Turkey: Trigger or Anchor for Reform?. South European Society & Politics. Vol. 10, No. 1: 73–83.