From EU candidacy to Shanghai Five membership: Turkey’s new path

Recent discussions show that instead of wanting to be a member of the EU, Turkey has turned its face to the Shanghai Five as the result of a decrease in democratic governance.


The sole strategy of Turkey, in the scope of the modernist movement, is to reach the level of western civilized countries. The milestone for the Turkish modernity period has been the Imperial Edict of Reorganization in 1839. Thus it seems clear that the concept of modernity has been in action for almost 174 years and Turkey’s role model was always the western world.


In terms of foreign politics, Turkey has been a member of the “Western Club” following the Second World War. As a member of the United Nations and NATO Turkey is, at the same time, pursuing its candidate status with the European Union, showing clear interest in groups all managed by western institutions. If Turkey’s relationship with the western world is to be clarified in terms of Turkish foreign policy, two parameters need to be mentioned. First, Turkey has been a close ally of the United States since 1945 and, second, after such a long and tiring journey Turkey still remains only in the candidate stage of its EU bid.


The above-mentioned parameters form the very basis of foreign policy in Turkey. Both left-wing and Islamist-oriented political groups defend their own different policy priorities. The conservatives especially think the EU is a “Christian Club” and it would not be appropriate for Turkey to become a member. For example, in 1996 Turkey was governed by a coalition of two right parties, the Refah Party (Welfare Party) and Doğru-yol Party (Right-path Party). In those days, Turkey’s Islamist-oriented Prime Minister Prof. Dr. Necmettin Erbakan wanted to establish a group called the D-8 society, which would be made up of only Muslim countries. Another example is the Justice and Development Party (AKP) fully defending Turkey’s EU integration and falling in line up with being a member of the EU following their success in the 2002 elections. After 2007, however, the AKP’s interest and motivation for Turkey’s EU candidacy decreased.


During a TV interview broadcast in January, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (who is a follower of Necmettin Erbakan) suggested leaving the EU and becoming a member of the Shanghai Five. His speech was a reform in the traditional Turkish foreign policy. There is no doubt it will not be so quick to change the aforementioned arrangements that have been in process for more than 50 years. However, the prime minister’s approach showed where Turkey is heading. Is Turkey, which is accepting of the western style of democracy, aiming to become a full member of the EU or a member of a western club in the broader sense? Or are we already a member of the Shanghai Five Organization?


Yes, in fact Turkey should be emphasized as a member of the Shanghai Five Organization because of the severe problems related to democratic standards that we have faced since 2007.  In the TV program the prime minister only clarified our minds and named it.

How did we reach this argument?


Although Turkey holds candidate status with the EU and it is expected to move on with its journey toward democracy, the standards in Turkey are breaking down day by day. In progress reports Turkey’s freedom of speech is listed as the first setback against the country’s process of democracy. A very recent example would be the lack of freedom in the media. Regarding free speech, Turkey unfortunately falls in the same league as China and Iran where most journalists are sentenced to prison. Hence, Turkey was not able to show any progress in the area of censorship, especially on the Internet. Turkey is not far away from the list of countries with the highest amount of Internet censorship, a list China heads. Annual reports from organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Border (RSF) are good examples of Turkey’s position regarding democratic reforms. It is pretty easy to see where Turkey stands as of January 2013 thanks to the map created by RSF for 2013. In the index of freedom of press for 2013 Turkey ranks 154th, behind Russia who is in 148th (RSF, 2013). We are lower than Russia, which is a very bad score for freedom of press.


Spot: Turkey has already proven she is a member of the Shanghai Five thanks to lists announced regarding the country’s standards of democratization.

SPOT: In theory, Turkey’s standards of democratization are decreasing, but because of its EU candidacy status the country is expected to develop for the better.


On the other hand, Turkey has an enormous number of recorded cases in terms of the European Human Rights Court (EHRC), similar to Russia. All of these have taken place in a country where AHİM stands. In theory, Turkey’s standards of democratization are decreasing, but because of its candidacy status the country is expected to develop for the better.

According to Article 90 of the Turkish Republic’s Constitution, international agreements should be applied (not the Turkish legal system) only if we are talking about fundamental rights. However, this law often seems to go unnoticed.


Turkey has already proven that she is a member of the Shanghai Five thanks to lists announced regarding the country’s standards of democratization. We may think we are living in a country that is an EU candidate, but it seems we are practically already a member of the Shanghai Five.


According to discussions regarding Turkey’s standards of democracy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s name is used next to Russia’s leaders Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban. This has triggered arguments and discussions about Turkey being an authoritarian state. Recent discussions in Turkey show that unsuitable applications of Turkish police force and legal jurisdictions bring the democracy standards down.


In general terms, the main borders of the Turkish right-wing policy movement have basically been rendered for “development” and the process of democratization has always become the less important issue. It is a pragmatic approach that the prime minster is taking with his new path, aiming to put Asia – a region of the world trending economically and politically – as his new target with democratization standards as his second aim. Yet, the prime minister’s pragmatic approach verifies the critics who say Turkey is an authoritarian state and the democracy standards have worsened.

About Alper Çelikel

Social Democracy Foundation, Member of Board