AKP’s Tactical Moves and the Need for the EU To Be Aware

On June 28, 2012, 16 EU foreign ministers published a declaration called “The EU and Turkey: Stronger Together” stressing the importance of increasing trade relationships with Turkey as the EU faces growing economic challenges. They argued that Turkey was a secular and democratic country with a growing middle class that can be seen as a model for its neighbors. Moreover, they stated that the EU accession process had played a vital role in the areas of weakening military tutorship and the independence of the judiciary. Quite honestly, these superficial statements contradict “practical wisdom, and give the impression that the EU focuses on the economic side of relations and neglects the internal dynamics of Turkish politics and the democratic deficits that are becoming ever more serious. The EU should not overlook the concept of Aristotle’s “phronesis,” or “practical wisdom” – the intellectual virtue of recognizing and responding to what is important in a given situation – in analyzing the current political atmosphere in Turkey and shaping its relations with the country. Indeed, the EU has started to forgo its optimistic bias and alter the cognitive mechanism it has internalized for a long time regarding the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The instrumentalization of EU policies and institutions by domestic actors is not a new phenomenon. Domestic actors seem to agree with the conditions of the EU, but do nothing to support it and tend to use them as a means to advance their strategic and tactical goals and consolidate their power. On a recent official visit in Turkey, the European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz declared that the EU Parliament had recently questioned the sincerity of the AKP’s reforms. He also said he was sure of the fact that “the EU is of no importance” to them, and that the reforms are more of a tactical nature. Thus, the EU has taken important steps in recognizing the strategy and tactics of the governing AKP. Nevertheless, it should still respond more decisively to the democratic deficits in Turkey, instead of focusing mainly on commercial relationships.

Furthermore, the reaction mechanisms of the EU are based on the standards of developed countries. Its reaction mechanisms and reaction cycles do not keep up to speed with the changes taking place in Turkey. In Turkey, by the time the EU was has reacted to democratic deficits it is already too late. In addition, the EU should reserve its wholehearted support for the AKP because of the latter’s unconditional implementation of neo-liberal policies. By implementing its neo-liberal program, AKP continues to consolidate its power and to impose its own model on society. AKP is steadily introducing an authoritarian political regime, and its manipulations should be carefully observed by the EU.

Correctly understanding the key words “tactics” and “strategy” is crucial in understanding the goals of a pragmatic political party such as AKP. The word strategy (“stretagos” in Greek) is not a synonym with tactics (“taktike” in Greek). A single strategy may be composed of many different tactics. The analogy of chess is helpful in analyzing the pragmatic yet Islamist AKP’s political behavior. In a plan, people decide which tactics should be employed in order to fulfill the larger objective: namely, the strategy. Arranging the best means to accomplishing this plan are the basics of a strategy. Below, I tryied to list some of the tactics used by the AKP in its power consolidation strategy.

* Control the center, enhance the power of your cadres, check the opponentÕs pleces that are controlling play.

One of the most important basic principles of chess openings is to control the center of the board. By controlling the center, the pieces can have more room to maneuver and prevent the opponent’s pieces from being mobile. One of the most important tactics of the AKP is based on the same principle. It tries to control the center (the judiciary, military, bureaucracy, and media) in order to enhance the power and maneuvering room of its other local components. It uses the judicial system to eliminate the opposition, just like Vladimir Putin, who has attempted to manipulate the legal framework in Russia for his authoritarian rule (as “The Economist” argued). A good strategy in chess also suggests that you should enhance the position of your pieces by threatening something at the same time. This tactic has mainly been implemented for the repression of the media, in order to slowly eliminate the opposition.

* Hide your true ideology until you secure absolute power.

The more power is consolidated in the hands of AKP, the more openly they implement fundamentalist policies. Recently, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÛan said his government wanted to “raise religious youth.” He also described abortions as a crime akin to “murder” and spoke out strongly against Caesarean section births. Meanwhile, from now on, state-funded youth camps will be segregated by gender. One should keep in mind that besides cultural Euroskepticism or anti-Europeanism, which refers to a broader hostility toward Europe as a civilization, AKP also demonstrates a value-based Euroskepticism which amounts to skepticism toward the EU’s demands on normative issues such as abortion or minority rights.

* Use positive images such as ‘democracy’ and use the European accession process.

One of the most important preconditions that facilitated AKP’s accession to power is the European Union integration process. The attitude of Islamists toward EU membership was distanced and cold until the 28th Feb. 1997, or “post-modern coup,” process. The EU was considered to be a religion-based community with Christian roots. This was the starting point, and the cultural differences were stressed from the very beginning. Islamists then realized that they could use the EU for political purposes in the domestic realm. After the Feb. 28 process, they started to see the EU in a different way. They understood that an EU accession process could make some useful contributions for them. This would not mean a complete unification with Europe, or a complete acceptance of all the values and the whole cultural structure of Europe. Rather, it meant the political structure of Turkey could be changed for their own advantage.
A majority of liberals and democrats supported the EU process unconditionally and fought also for complete accession, defending this prospect in an ideological sense. AKP, on the other hand, wanted these regulations only in order to be able to change the domestic system according to its own needs. In this sense, it was a strategic step that helped improve their conditions, rather than an ideological, cultural intercourse. AKP thus used the concept of democracy to hide its true ideology, and used the EU integration process when politically expedient.

* When in trouble, keep in mind that attack is often the best form of defense. Look out for such a possibility.

This principle is closely related to the concept of “diversion” (“Ablenkung” in German). We observe such diversion tactics in the statements of ErdoÛan such as “Every abortion is an Uludere” to direct attention to another issues and gain time. If reactions are strong, they take steps back for a certain period of time and wait until the reactions soften.

AKP strategists are good positional players when there is no tactic immediately to follow. They have mastered the principles that brought them electoral success. CHP has not been able to respond with the right moves for a long period of time. One should not forget that having a greater ability than your opponent in the endgame can change a losing position into a winning position. Moreover, it is important to remember that no chess player in the world – even the most complex computer programs – can possibly calculate a whole chess game from beginning to end. Calculation is not in itself enough: one should also have sound intuition about what makes chess and politics more interesting. We expect from CHP more sophisticated tactics and a deeper strategy in order to balance power in the Turkish political system.

About Can Büyükbay

PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science Center for Comparative & International Studies, University of Zurich