What explains the EU compliance of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)? Since it came to power in 2002, AKP has launched legislative reforms in order to meet the European Union’s political membership criteria (i.e., democracy, rule of law, human rights and minority rights). These reforms are puzzling since they happened in the absence of the two conditions of compliance argued in the literature: (1) credible EU political conditionality, (2) liberal ruling parties in EU candidate states. I argue that AKP’s pro-EU reform agenda is explained by neither a belief in the possibility of membership via democratization (credible conditionality) nor liberal political identity. Rather, democratic measures under AKP are instrumentally induced. Two broad political motivations have guided AKP’s reform commitment: (1) the electoral incentive to please Turkey’s pro-EU membership electorate as well as AKP’s conservative/religious constituency eager to see freedom of religion expanded under EU conditionality, (2) the motive to use reforms to weaken domestic secular forces (i.e. the military and high courts) and “survive” as a party with Islamist roots in Turkey’s secular political system. The paper supports the argument with evidence gathered from original coding data for both conditionality and compliance as well as process-tracing.
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