Are Turkey-Balkan Relations Being De-Europeanized?

Europeanization had once been the starting point of Turkey’s relations with the Balkans, but over the last decade both have drifted away from the EU orbit. Ahmet Erdi Ozturk and Basak Alpan explain how and why on FeniksPod’s Balkan and EU Series.
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Hosted by Hamdi Firat Buyuk and Abdullah Sencer Gozubenli, the latest episode of FeniksPod’s Balkan and EU Series welcomed Associate Professor Ahmet Erdi Ozturk from London Metropolitan University and Associate Professor Basak Alpan from Middle East Technical University.

During the episode, Ozturk and Alpan evaluated Turkey-Balkan relations from the perspective of Europeanization, referring to a special issue of the Journal of Southeast European and Black Sea Studies entitled “Turkey and the Balkans: bringing the Europeanisation/De-Europeanisation nexus into question”. The special issue was co-edited by Ozturk and Alpan.

“The idea for the special issue came from a virtual workshop on Turkey and the Balkans organized by London Metropolitan University and the Jean Monnet Network. I am a coordinator of the Jean Monnet Network funded by the Erasmus+ programme and the name of the network is ‘Linking Europe at the Periphery’. When you are talking about the periphery of Europe, the Balkans is a very important region,” Alpan explained.

According to Alpan, another reason for their contribution to the special issue of the journal was based on the need to include insights from the Balkans in terms Turkey’s bilateral relations.

Both Alpan and Ozturk underlined that leading Turkish, Balkan, and European experts penned articles for the special issue including Dimitar Bechev from the University of Oxford, Birgul Demirtas from the Turkish-German University, and Adnan Huskic from the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology.

“We tried to assess Turkey’s bilateral relations with Balkan countries against the background of EU accession and other dynamics such as COVID-19 and the refugee crisis,” Alpan continued.

Ozturk underlined that Turkey is attempting to differentiate itself from other actors active in the Balkans by using its own arguments and weltanschauung.

“From my point of view, Turkey is gradually withdrawing from the Western understanding of international cooperation and trying to restore distinction between the Western understanding of civilization by synthesizing a very subjective understanding of nationalism with a nostalgic version of history and Sunni Islam,” Ozturk said.

Both academics also underlined that despite the changing nature of Turkey-Balkan relations, a Turkey that adopts European values is much more valuable than a country that often conflicts with the West.

“There is downhill direction in Turkey-EU relations,” Alpan said, also highlighting that EU-Balkan relations are following a similar trajectory.

Nonetheless, Alpan remains hopeful despite the many challenges, including the EU’s enlargement fatigue.

“Even at the lowest point of [EU-Turkey] relations, we still see the very well-structured background. The EU remains a game changer in the region,” Alpan concluded.

You can listen to the full FeniksPod episode on SoundCloud, Anchor, and Spotify.