Reading Manifestos: European Union in Turkey’s June 2015 Elections

As the June 2015 general elections approach all major political parties in Turkey published their election manifestos, which are considered as the “standard accessory of elections in most democratic countries” (Daeubler, 2012: 51).. Theoretically, manifestos play an important role as they ease intra-party communication as well as communication with voters, third parties and/or potential allies, by providing basic information on the policies and views of the party on several issues concerning economy, social issues and foreign relations.

In this short piece, I will focus on the ideas and commitments of the main political parties that are competing for the national elections in 2015 in Turkey, namely the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi –AKP), the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP), Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi ­– MHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi –HDP), with regards to Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership. It is quite important to track parties’ policies on the issue, since Turkey is still waiting for full-membership, but at the same time public (Yılmaz 2011), civil society (Büyükbay 2014) and party-based Euroscepticism (Başkan and Gümrükçü 2012; Başkan-Canyaş and Gümrükçü 2015) has been on the rise in Turkey in the recent years due to several strategic, ideological and identity-based issues.

To start with the AKP, it was the first party to declare its manifesto, which is the longest one with a length of 380 pages. It is a quite long document for an election manifesto, but it has to be kept in mind that the AKP gave not only to its commitments in the manifesto, but also to the “achievements” of the party in the last 12 years. The party’s policies regarding Turkey’s foreign relations and issues are represented in the chapter titled “Visionary and Leader State”.  EU-Turkey relations are given place after Cyprus, Iraq, Palestine, North Africa, Middle East, Syria and the Balkans, while it was in the second place in 2011. Considering the party’s current and previous manifestos, it can be claimed that the AKP has a pro-EU stance. Both in 2011 and 2015, the party claimed that they are in favor of Turkey’s EU membership which is seen as of strategic importance. However, in 2015 the party claimed that Turkey’s relationship with the EU is not an alternative to Turkey’s other relationships, rather it is complementary.  This statement seems in line with the recent discontent among the party’s officials regarding the attitudes of European Union. It is also made clear in the manifesto that the EU would also benefit from Turkey’s membership thanks to the dynamism of the country’s economy.

The CHP gave place to issues regarding foreign policy in its 203 pages manifesto under the title of “Citizen and Value Based Foreign Policy”. Unlike the AKP’s manifesto, EU is the first topic of the chapter. The CHP draws a pro-EU profile by claiming that under their government negotiations with EU will be terminated with Turkey’s full membership and Turkey will be an esteemed member. In this regard, it is possible to obtain a change in the stance of the CHP towards EU, which was described as a Eurosceptic party based on previous manifestos (Başkan-Canyaş and Gümrükçü 2015). On the other hand, the CHP keeps its concerns about biased negotiations and claims that the party is going to reject the fact if Turkey’s membership would be based on unfair unilateral compromises. In addition, it seems that the AKP is not the only one claiming Turkey’s EU membership would also contribute to the EU. The CHP also claims that Turkey’s EU membership will not contribute only to Turkey, but also to the EU as the union would be stronger and more peaceful.

The MHP waited until May 3rd, the day of Turkism, to declare its manifesto of 257 pages. MHP preferred to be more simplistic and gave place to its foreign policies under the title “Foreign Policy”. In a similar manner with AKP, MHP gave place to the EU after Cyprus and relations with the other Turkic states. In addition, they also preferred to use adjectives for Turkey like “regional leader” and “global power”. With regards to Turkey-EU relations, the MHP, among other parties handled in this piece, has an open hard-Eurosceptic stance. According to the party, Turkey-EU relations are contemporarily out of track thanks to insincere attitudes of the EU, especially on the Cyprus issue. Also some officials of the EU and European politicians claim that the negotiations will not end with Turkey’s full-membership; a fact that is declared unacceptable for the MHP. Turkey-EU relations, according to the MHP, are not an issue of “identity and fate”. Turkey is not dependent and indigent on EU membership at all costs. This is not a surprise given the nationalist ideology of the party. In line with its ideology, the party has major concerns regarding national unity, the perceived threat of separatism and the Armenian issue. Thus, the EU is expected to respect these issues. In addition, full membership negotiations will be carried under the conditions that EU would not harm Turkey’s interest in the mentioned issues.

The HDP’s election manifesto is the shortest with about 50 pages. Thus, the party did not give a length to its foreign policies but only summarized main points under “Equalitarian, Emancipatory and Peaceful Foreign Policy” title. While the party did not make a direct reference to Turkey’s EU membership, they presented opinions on the EU with making a reference to basic rights. Thus, it is claimed that the party is going to continue defend the principles that were brought to the forefront by the EU including respect to human rights, local democracy, and separation of power and rule of law. It is mentioned that Turkey’s full EU membership negotiations will be handled based on the general principles of the party.

The EU issue has long been an important topic in Turkey, especially for those who are concerned about the process of democratization of the country. Since the negotiations are continuing it is obvious that it will still be a topic whichever party (or parties) form the new government in Turkey after June 2015 elections. It is, however, obvious that main political parties have different approaches and concerns towards the issue. The questions regarding the preparation of party programs and election manifestos and whether or not (or to what extent) parties stick to these documents once in office, is another issue of course.



Başkan, Filiz and Selin Bengi Gümrükçü. 2012. ““Positions of Turkish Political Parties on European Integration.” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 12 (1): 25-44.

Başkan-Canyaş, Filiz and Selin Bengi Gümrükçü. 2015. “Europeanization and Political Parties in Turkey” Ali Tekin and Aylün Güney (eds.) The Europeanization of Turkey: Polity and Politics. New York: Routledge, pp.145-162.

Büyükbay, Can. 2014. Euroscepticism in Turkey: the Discursive Construction of Europe and European Integration. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Zurich.

Däubler, Thomas. 2012. “The preparation and use of election manifestos: learning from the Irish case.” Irish Political Studies 27 (1): 51-70.

Election Manifesto. 2015.  Justice and Development Party. (accessed on May 16, 2015).

Election Manifesto. 2015. Republican People’s Party. (accessed on May 16, 2015).

Election Manifesto. 2015. Nationalist Action Party.  (accessed on May 16, 2015).

Election Manifesto. 2015. People’s Democratic Party. (accessed on May 16, 2015).

Yılmaz, Hakan. 2011. “Euroscepticism in Turkey: Parties, Elites and Public Opinion.” South European Society and Politics 16 (1): 185-208.


*Selin Bengi Gümrükçü is currently a lecturer at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Izmir University. She received her PhD in Political Science from University Zurich in October 2014. Her main interests include social movements in Turkey and political parties.