Identity Discourses in EU-Turkey Relations

Matilde Zubani*

*Autore corrispondente per questo lavoro

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroContributo a convegno


Since the Luxembourg Summit, in 1997, the presence of identity discourses in the debate for and against Turkey's EU accession has increased significantly. In our analysis we draw a distinction on two identity dimensions: cultural and civic. As for the first dimension, we assess how the concepts of 'civilisation' and 'clash of civilisation' are used in the discourse on EU-Turkey relation. Moreover, we examine the three main categories of arguments used to define Turkey’s “Europeanness” from a cultural perspective: geographic, historical, and religious. Moving to civic identity, we address arguments on shared political values. Taking into consideration the importance of speech acts for the construction of identity discourses, through all the analysis relevance is given to the institutional and, more generally, to the political statements by various actors. The concept of civilisation has been often used either by proponents or opponents of Turkish full membership to the EU. Both groups argue that the EU is a civilisational project. According to the first view, there is only one civilisation which can potentially accommodate everybody: there is not obstacle to Turkey's accession once it proved to be 'civilised', which in this case means to have fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria. Conversely, in the second view, there is a plurality of civilisations which differentiate themselves on historical and religious bases. Consequently, civilisations are mutually exclusive, and the EU is perceived as the representation of the European civilisation, founded on Christianity, Greek antiquity and the values of Enlightenment. In this framework, Turkey, which should belong to the Islamic civilisation, is seen as incompatible with the EU project at no conditions. Despite the absolute absence of official EU acquis for broad cultural questions, which have not been on the table in the EU-Turkey accession talks since 2005, we observe that the discussion about Turkey's 'cultural fit' is prominent in the political debate. The uneasiness that some EU Member States feel about the prospect of welcoming Turkey has often been directed towards identity disputes on Turkey's Europeanness based on geography, history, and religion. Again, all these arguments have been challenged by those who believe Turkey belongs to Europe both historically and geographically, and by those who believe European identity is based mainly on universal values like human dignity, equality, and justice rather than on religion. With the decision to nominate Turkey as a candidate for full membership and to start accession negotiations on October 3, 2005, the EU has in practice forsworn the application of the cultural and civilisational criteria for Turkey’s admission, suggesting to favour the ‘cultural diversity approach’. We argue that by embracing Turkey the EU would move beyond the cultural paradigm and transform itself to a geographically defined entity embracing a multiplicity of civilisations. However, as long as Turkey's accession negotiations remain unresolved, the suspicion that the ‘logic of culture’ might influence EU decisions will continue to hover.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteLa questione Mediterraneo. Tradizione, cambiamenti, prospettive.
Numero di pagine23
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2023
Pubblicato esternamente
EventoSTUDENTS CONFERENCE 2021 La questione “Mediterraneo” - Tradizione, Cambiamenti, Prospettive - Messina, Italy
Durata: 13 ott 202115 ott 2021


ConvegnoSTUDENTS CONFERENCE 2021 La questione “Mediterraneo” - Tradizione, Cambiamenti, Prospettive
CittàMessina, Italy


  • Discourse
  • European union
  • Identity
  • Turkey


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