CHP’s New European Perspectives

Turkey’s left-wing CHP and EU social democrats are set to ameliorate their relationship. Mutual effort is key for success.

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is a full member of the Socialist International (SI). Former CHP Chairman Deniz Baykal served as vice-president of the SI between 2003 and 2008. CHP is also an associate member of the Party of European Socialists (PES). However, relations between CHP and European institutions and European social democratic parties have not always been characterised by perfect mutual understanding over the past decade. Unfriendly political attitudes and untimely declarations against CHP by various European politicians or government officials should not affect inter-party relations, as has been the case to date. On the other hand it is also true that CHP has not been active enough in developing strong and fruitful relations with European social democrats. CHP has only recently intensified efforts to create closer relationships with European socialist organizations and political parties. Recent visits and the contacts established thereafter by CHP’s new chairman Kilicdaroglu, provide convincing precursory signs of the party’s new approach regarding its relations with Europe.

One should not overlook the fact that CHP has supported Turkey’s EU-accession from the very beginning, because it considers membership a natural extension of the republican vision, a project of modernisation and integration with the contemporary world. Turkey’s path to the EU, starting with the Ankara Treaty in 1963 -signed by CHP leader Inonu- accompanied by the document of candidature in 1999 -signed yet by another former CHP leader Ecevit- has been paved by social democrats. The first harmonization measures and reforms, such as the abolition of the death penalty, were adopted under Ecevit government. Between 2002 and 2005, AKP government seemed very enthusiastic regarding EU-accession. This enthusiams stemmed from the perception of Erdogan leadership, that EU-accession process would probably guarantee all religious freedoms, including the headscarf in schools and the turban in public areas.


The “global vision” of CHP and of European social democrats coincide perfectly. In the course of its evolution to social democracy, a party with such historical roots should feel committed to assume an active role in European socialist institutions. Furthermore, CHP’s future politics must be shaped, as much as possible, in the perspective of a Europe-wide harmonization process. But most ironically, on many issues, during the last decade, European social democrats have backed AKP against CHP.

Since AKP’s advent, in 2002, Turkish political scene has undergone radical change. Within a couple of years, the concerns regarding the Islamic roots of AKP’s founders were diminished thanks to AKP’s brief embrace of EU-accession process. The European support provided to AKP during the period 2002-2010 was generally the result of the fallacious belief that AKP was a genuine democratising political force. CHP’s political attitudes that were incompatible with social democratic norms were another reason its European counterparts preferred to support AKP, a clearly right-wing conservative political party.

Three major political events interrupted the ongoing process since 2002. Firstly, a radical change took place within CHP in May 2010: Kilicdaroglu replaced Baykal as the new chairman of the party. This unleashed a new political orientation within CHP. Secondly, the referendum backed by the government in order to amend the constitution was passed with a 58% majority in September 2010. This outcome created negative consequences for the opposition. First of all, the government was now able to create constitutional opportunities to strenghten its grip on the judiciary. Secondly the decline of AKP and the ascent of CHP that had been observed since the local elections of 2009 were both reversed. Thirdly and finally, AKP’s sweeping electoral victory in June 2011 has enabled Prime Minister Erdogan and his party to initiate a profound conservative transformation of the Turkish society and to remove any democratic resistance by authoritarian implementation. The “conservative counter-revolution” within Turkey is currently taking place step by step, as Western political observers focus mainly each “step” overlooking the whole picture the country is actually facing.

Undoubtedly, AKP abandoned all its effort of democratisation after strenghtening its power, and confined itself to consume the classical structures of the authoritarian state. The fact that the Europe’s left-oriented institutions supported the conservative AKP had been very frustrating for CHP, which considers itself the inheritor of the modernising and westernising reformist political tradition in Turkey. However, in view of CHP’s recently adapted profound approach to social democracy, accompanied by closer contacts with its European counterparts, and AKP’s actual agenda, the opinion of the European Left can be expected to reverse dramatically.


It is true that in the recent past, CHP has espoused political attitudes that were in contradiction with its affiliation to the European socialist family. But this regrettable fact should not lead European social democratic parties to build persistent prejudices regarding CHP. They must also make an effort to inform themselves properly about CHP. European social democrats should look at the grand scheme of events. It should be noted that a more discerning approach on the part of European social democracy towards CHP would help her to shape its future policies in accordance with social democratic norms. Deeper cooperation and mutual comprehension will surely assist CHP’s road to contemporary social democracy.

Turkish public opinion is globally undecided about Turkish EU-accession, but pro-European Turkish citizens are undoubtedly majority compared to Euro-sceptics. Incidental decreases in popular support tend to be the result of superflous and untimely declarations by some European leaders about Turkey. European social democrats are mostly aware of the need for Europe to integrate Turkey in the long run. The presence of Turkey within the EU would confirm and strenghten its allegation as global power. In contrast, without the prospect of EU membership, the position of pro-European Turkish democrats and social democrats would be weakened considerably, thereby reinforcing nationalism, isolationism, fundamentalism and an inevitable eastward slide of Turkish foreign policy.

About Aydιn Cıngı

Political scientist, founder and former chairman of Social Democracy Foundation