Why I Love my PhD

The Guardian, Higher Education Network

guardianI found out that my PhD application had been successful during a typical day in the pub kitchen – I had started at 5.30am, cleaning litres of grease off the oven filters. What was meant to be temporary work to support my master’s degree had become a full-time job, and in five years I had moved from being a kitchen porter to a shift leader and stand-in manager.

My heart was racing during the breakfast shift as I waited for the news about my PhD. But checking my emails on my phone was out of the question – I had to concentrate. A busy kitchen requires full focus at all times; drift off for a few seconds and you can end up losing a finger. And if I took longer than eight minutes to deliver a full English breakfast, I would have to sit down with my manager and explain where I had failed. So I finally got the good news at the end of my shift and walked out of the pub feeling like the luckiest person in the world.

Today I am just over two years into my PhD in political science at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna. I am exploring the communication between members of parliament and their constituents. We elect MPs to represent our beliefs, ideas, and interests, but without communication, they may never know what our interests actually are. And so this back and forth is crucial for a healthy, representative democracy.

I want to discover how MPs choose what to communicate to their constituents. My initial plan was to talk to MPs themselves, but, as my supervisor had wisely warned me, this didn’t work. I soon found out that MPs don’t want to communicate with PhD students – they would rather invest their time in conversations with people who will help them to earn votes.

So instead of asking MPs about how they communicate with their constituents, I decided to use email contact from constituents to analyse MPs’ behaviour. My experiment was one of the first to use this methodology to study elected representatives in Europe and I was thrilled to win the 2015 Pademia Student Paper Award, for the best student research in parliamentary democracy in Europe.

I love my PhD because research is what I live for. I don’t see it as a job like the pub. Days off from the kitchen were precious and never enough, but now I have to force myself to stay away from my office to rest and recuperate. I often find myself spending the weekends there reading, analysing data and writing, not because I have to but because I love to.

My days in kitchen provided valuable experience for my research. The physical and mental grind of the long hours gave me a strong work ethic and mean that I have a sense of perspective when things get tough on my PhD.

And I have kept the early-morning starts – well, almost. I begin work at 6.30am, so I get an extra hour in bed. Although I can now check my emails whenever I want and procrastinate without getting into trouble, I know how to avoid getting too distracted.

Putting in these hours on my PhD has helped me to overcome some of the mistakes that I have made along the way. Assuming that MPs would respond to my questions, for example, meant that I wasted 10 months designing questionnaires and interviews. But I am on course to finish writing my thesis within two and a half years, six months ahead of time.

My story so far goes against the stereotype of the PhD as a long, torturous journey that students have to suffer through. I enjoy working on the answer to the question I have chosen because it really matters. When I start working before sunrise, I know that I am not making multimillionaires slightly richer while they sleep. I know that my research will never make me rich either, but I hope that it will benefit society.

An exceptional outcome, whether it’s an English breakfast or a PhD thesis, is difficult to achieve with average ingredients, no matter how hard you try. I know how frustrating it is to be without support from my days in the kitchen, where we were often understaffed. Thankfully I have all the resources that I need now, including two inspirational supervisors. It was worth waiting, and working, for the right opportunity to come along.

Increasing role of parliaments in EU and the Turkish Parliament

Daily Sabah

Daily Sabah

When the Greek government and its creditors agreed on a third bailout for Greece on July 13, the deal was still far from complete. It still needed approval by seven national parliaments in the eurozone where a vote was obligatory. In some other cases without such an obligation, governments nevertheless preferred to hold the deal to the verdict of their parliaments. At this point, unified approval cannot be taken for granted.

All anxious eyes were on the parliaments in Finland and Germany as well as Greece where opposition to the deal was seen as the most significant. This process of parliamentary approval took over a month and only finalized with votes in favor of the deal in the German Busdestag and the Dutch Tweede Kamer on Aug. 19.

This can be seen as the latest episode of the increasing role of national parliaments in the EU. Needless to say, not all affairs are as salient or controversial as the Greek bailout, and incentives are not always this high for parliaments to be involved in EU affairs or for the media to cover their involvement. Yet overall, parliaments are now in a much better position compared to the situation in the 1990s or even as recently as 2009 before the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force.

The fall

European governments have long benefited from low-key EU affairs that do not spark debate in their parliaments or their countries as a whole. This does not only make their life easier in making and implementing these policies, but it also gives them a comparative advantage by increasing their political autonomy against parliaments. However, the shift in the balance of legislative-executive relations in favor of the latter is only one part of the problem for these parliaments.

The other, and perhaps the more obvious of the two, is the transfer of the decision-making power from parliaments of EU member states to supranational institutions at the EU level. The autonomy of national parliaments has dramatically decreased as EU institutions took over varying proportions of decision-making power over the decades. The transfer of decision-making competencies to EU institutions deprives representatives of voting on an increasing number of policies and, therefore, of their legislative sovereignty.

The rise

Against this background, concerns over the democratic legitimacy of the EU have provided opportunities for national parliaments to regain their previously lost autonomy in decision making. The involvement of national parliaments in EU affairs is often seen as the most likely remedy for the so-called democratic deficit problem in the EU. As a result, parliaments have secured important constitutional rights and developed effective political scrutiny practices over time.

Constitutionally, national parliaments have gradually made their way into EU treaties. Early references to national parliaments in declarations and protocols have been replaced by stronger rights in the Treaty of Lisbon. Now, parliaments do not just receive legislative proposals from or provide mere consultation to the EU, but they also have the right to force the European Commission to take action with the Early Warning Mechanism.

Politically, parliaments have made important gains against their executives with regard to mandating governments in EU affairs, accessing information on their behavior in the EU and then processing this information. Parliamentarians need information to carry out their parliamentary activities, and they have responded rationally to the information gap in EU affairs by developing strategies to hold their representatives to account.

European Affairs Committees (EACs) have come to be an important part of such strategies. National parliaments have created special committees to deal with EU affairs. They soon became the main body where the constitutionally secured rights of parliaments are exercised. As parliamentary rights and duties have included scrutiny of more documents from more policy areas, their resources and thus capabilities have also improved over time. Besides documents, the majority of EACs have become active in scrutinizing members of governments before and after European Council meetings. If parliamentarians are not the ones to decide on Europeanized competencies, the idea is that they should at least be in a position to scrutinize those who can. Some even have gone beyond scrutinizing and gained powers to mandate ministers with instructions on how to vote on upcoming issues in the European Council.

Parliaments also join forces to increase their authority and relevance in the EU decision-making process. National parliaments meet biannually in the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), where parliamentarians, most of whom are members of individual EACs, share information, experiences and best practices about their involvement in EU affairs. Parliaments have also developed networks for monitoring the subsidiarity principle. Through the Inter-Parliamentary EU Information Exchange Platform (IPEX), parliaments publish their reasoned opinions on EU legislative drafts, learn the position of other parliaments and, therefore, coordinate their positions.

Turkish Parliament

The parliaments of EU candidate countries, including Turkey, have been going through similar institutional adaptations as well. In Turkey, Parliament established a specialized committee in 2003, the European Union Harmonization Committee, in order to have a role in the accession process. It oversees the compliance of the legislative proposals in Parliament with EU law, assists Turkey’s EU membership bid and scrutinizes the government in the negotiation process.

As is the case for all EACs from other candidate countries, three members of the European Union Harmonization Committee attend the COSAC meetings as observers. These meetings provide an important opportunity for members of the Turkish Parliament to interact with other EACs and to learn about best practices for behavioral as well as institutional adaptation.

Often, behavioral adaptation of members of parliament is a more challenging task than the institutional adaptation of parliaments themselves. The Turkish Parliament might be on the right track with institutional adaptations to the EU, as evident in the establishment of the EU Harmonization Committee, but what rather matters more is whether these institutional adaptations lead to a change in the actual behavior of members of parliament.

Formal rules and institutions are important, but they are only one side of the story. This is why, despite having similar institutional arrangements across EU member states, some parliaments have a more active role than others in the EU. Where would the Turkish Parliament stand within this divide if Turkey becomes a full member one day? To say the least, there are signs that the Turkish Parliament would not be among the most active parliaments in the EU. For example, we have seen neither the Turkish Parliament nor its EU Harmonization Committee taking a visible role in Turkey’s membership bid for the EU so far.

Instead of leaving it all to the European Union Affairs Ministry, the Turkish Parliament and, especially, the EU Harmonization Committee should get involved more actively in the accession process. In the short run, their involvement could help bring momentum to the negotiations. And in the long run, this could positively shape their future role in the EU.

The puzzling case of the MHP

Daily Sabah

Daily Sabah

The position of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the search for a coalition government has become increasingly puzzling ever since election day. How can we make sense of the confusing, and at times downright contradictory, statements coming from the party?

It is a challenging task to write about where the MHP stands while Turkey searches for a coalition. Are they willing to negotiate with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to form a government or not? By the time this piece is published, there will have most likely been a few more inconsistent declarations from the party to answer this question, adding to the ever-growing confusion since the June 7 elections.

There is no need to go that far back to find an example to support this argument. Only as recently as last week, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli puzzled everyone again within a matter of hours. On Thursday, while the coalition talks between the AK Party and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) were proceeding in Ankara, Bahçeli was away to speak at the MHP’s Provincial Consultation Meetings. As the leader of the party that had rejected any coalition prospects with the AK Party, he told members of his party in Yozgat that the MHP was ready to take governmental responsibility and to form a coalition with the AK Party, subject to a number of preconditions. One of these preconditions was that the PKK should lay down arms.

This speech was soon widely reported in the media, as it referred to an important shift in the position of the MHP. “Nationalist MHP leader changes tact, winks at coalition talks,” read the front page of Daily Sabah over the weekend. However, this change of tact lasted only a few hours. On the way back to Ankara, talking to journalist traveling with him, the MHP chairman again rejected forming a coalition with the AK Party or supporting an AK Party minority government. Upon being reminded of what he just told party members in Yozgat, Bahçeli apparently declared yet another precondition for a coalition: Swearing on the Quran in the presence of the head of Presidency of Religious Affairs. On the following Monday, Daily Sabah’s front page was telling enough: “MHP’s Bahçeli reverts back to hostility toward coalition.”

There are at least three aspects of the puzzle created by the MHP about their position on any coalition. First, as the most obvious one, there is the swing between being open and closed to a coalition with the AK Party. Second, the preconditions put forward by the MHP remain unclear as their content as well as the numbers keep changing. For example, the MHP now requires not only the AK Party to end the reconciliation process, but also the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to lay down arms. It is hard to see how the latter, a 30-year conflict that is not up to the AK Party alone to end, could possibly be a precondition for negotiations with the AK Party.

Finally, there is a third aspect of the puzzle, where the position of the MHP’s party leadership seems to differ from the rest of the party. Contrary to declarations from the party leadership, statements from unnamed MHP “sources,” as often reported in the media, have been more positive about being in a coalition government since the elections. From this point of view, it may not be a coincidence that Bahçeli’s speech for the party members portrayed himself as open to coalition negotiations, whereas he had a different dong with journalists. This supports the suspicion that the MHP’s backbenchers and local branches are in favor of a coalition with the AK Party despite the refusal of the party leadership. If these suspicions are correct, the clue to solve the puzzling case of the MHP might be hidden right here in this third aspect.

Political parties are rational actors, and they behave strategically to pursue their preferences. Every party has at least one and often many policy preferences, but it is only those parties in government that can achieve their preferences. In short, to realize their preferences parties need to be in government and to be able to be in government they need to maximize their votes in elections.

The last time the MHP was in the government, as one of three coalition partners, was 13 years ago. This is the first time many existing members of the party have come this close to being in the government, and if it is to be missed, there is no guarantee that this chance will come up again in the next 13 years. This is a very long time in politics, especially in Turkish politics, and it may well exceed the political career of many MHP deputies and other members. At least some of them must be finding it hard to understand why their party is missing the opportunity to be in a government.

There are often trade-offs between the office-seeking and vote-seeking goals of parties. Despite the opportunity to be in government after 13 years, the MHP leadership might be worrying about the votes that this opportunity could cost them in the next elections. There are many such examples where smaller parties in coalition governments have suffered electoral losses. Remember, for instance, the fate of British Liberal Democrats last May, when they went from 57 to eight deputies in Parliament after five years in government with the Conservatives.

Therefore, creating a puzzle might be a strategic move for the MHP to deal with the trade-offs that the party faces. A vague position with respect to their willingness to form a coalition government helps the MHP leadership to hold the party together by pleasing everyone simultaneously. On the one hand, a clear position that is for a coalition with the AK Party would alienate those party members and voters who are against such a move. On the other hand, a position that is absolutely against being in a coalition would distance those who worked hard for the party in the last 13 years to come so close to being in a government.

Early elections would be a good test to see whether this strategy works for the MHP. Nevertheless, it is possible to foresee that, with the change in the AK Party’s position on the reconciliation process, there are challenging times ahead for the MHP. Now that even less separates the MHP from the AK Party, a possible early election is likely to show a swing away from the MHP toward the AK Party, as voters might prefer the party that actually takes responsibility rather than the party that is vague about being in government at best and that rejects it at worst.

Coalition prospects: The distance between the AK Party and other parties

Daily Sabah

Daily Sabah

After 13 years of single-party governments, Turkish politics is in search of a coalition again. The long domination of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) seems to have blurred the memory of the preceding era of coalition governments in Turkey. Contributing to the confusion has been the often inconsistent declarations and re-declarations of coalition prospects by the parties and their members since the general elections on 7 June. While the AK Party continues the coalition talks with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) behind closed doors, what do the party positions on various issues tell us about the coalition prospects?

The latest wave of Chapel Hill expert surveys announced earlier this week provides timely data to answer this question. It is composed of estimates by experts on the positioning of political parties from 31 countries with respect to several policy issues ranging from European integration and other specific policy areas to more broad political ideology. For example, on the role of religious principles in politics, experts are asked to place the parties on a scale from 0 (strongly opposes religious principles in politics) to 10 (strongly supports religious principles in politics). In this particular policy area, the AK Party scores 9.4, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) scores 6.1, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) scores 1.4 and finally the CHP scores 1.3. Therefore, the survey rather unsurprisingly places the MHP as the closest party to the AK Party with respect to the position of the party leadership on the role of religion in politics.

A systematic analysis of the party distances in all policy areas shows that the MHP is indeed the closest party to the AK Party in the highest number of policy areas compared to the CHP or HDP. Specifically, the distance between the positions of the AK Party and the MHP is smallest in 18 out of 31 policy areas, or in other words, about 58 percent of the time. This is in line with the preference of the AK Party base to form a coalition with the MHP, as announced by AK Party Deputy Chairman Beşir Atalay based on polls conducted by the party. The base may not necessarily have any data, or base their choice on data even if they had the data, but it seems that the AK Party polls refer to a rational choice.

Graph
The graph above hints that the CHP is the second-best choice for the AK Party to form a coalition with. In terms of the distance to the AK Party in policy positions, the CHP is most likely to be positioned somewhere in between the other two parties. It is the closest party to the AK Party in only 10 policy areas, or roughly 32 percent of the time. The policy areas in which the AK Party is most likely to agree with the CHP than the other two parties include Turkey’s relationship with the EU, political decentralization of the state, their position toward ethnic minorities and the salience of economic or democratic issues.

That being said, one should also note that the CHP is furthest away from the AK Party in the least number of policy areas. Beside the above-mentioned example of religious principles in politics, compared to the positions of the other two parties, the CHP position is at the greatest distance to the AK Party in international security as well as salience of anti-establishment rhetoric and political corruption. Finally, unlike the CHP, the HDP is the furthest away from the AK Party in the highest number of policy areas. Out of 31 policy areas, the positional distances between the AK Party and HDP are the largest in 20 areas, in other words, about 65 percent of the time. The two parties are closest in very few areas such as immigration policy. The position of political parties on policy issues is an important indicator not only for coalition prospects between or among parties, but also for the stability of a coalition government. Parties that are closer to each other on policy dimensions are more likely to find and sustain a compromise through coalition agreements.

However, as the coalition talks of the recent weeks in Turkey have shown, one should not read too much into party positions either. Party leaderships weigh different policy dimensions differently as not all policy areas are equally important for all parties. Besides, there are other strategic reasons why a party leadership may not be willing to form a coalition with another party even if they are very close in many dimensions of policy, just as is evident in the reluctance of the MHP to form a coalition government with the AK Party. The development of coalition prospects since the June 7 general elections – that the AK Party is now more likely to form a coalition with the CHP, which is positioned further away than the MHP in many areas – is a good real-life example of strategic party behavior in many aspects.

Electoral reform and legislative behavior

Hürriyet Daily News

hurriyet

The issue of electoral reform, forgotten since the announcement of the “democratization package” in September last year, has become a subject of the political agenda again. With alternatives discussed at the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as we learn from government ministers, to be enacted before the deadline for the next general elections, there is less pretense today that reform is about democratization.

Although reducing or abolishing the 10 percent threshold, which is indeed higher than democratic standards, would enhance proportional representation in Parliament, proposed reforms may not be the best alternatives to do so: single-member constituency system, one of the alternatives considered by the AKP, is known to yield highly disproportional distributions of parliamentary seats.

Electoral reforms are rather political or downright partisan matters, not only in Turkey, but elsewhere as well. Any change in the rules of competition for parliamentary seats has a potential to create new winners and losers. In this sense, it is understandable that the debate over the proposed reform has concentrated so far on partisan consequences in terms of gaining or losing seats in the next election.

Consequences of electoral reform, however, cannot be limited to such numbers, but are far reaching. One overlooked aspect of these consequences is legislative behavior. Once the seats are filled according to the new institutional design, parliamentarians may form new behavior patterns in doing their jobs, due to the new rules of electoral competition. Elections have a central role in political science in analyzing legislative behavior. It is these rules that allocate the parliamentary seat to the incumbents and these rules again that will decide if incumbents are going to keep their seats in the future. Therefore, political behavior is heavily depended on the electoral system.

Many aspects of legislative behavior that are widely thought to be personal or cultural are in fact consequences of electoral design. For example, it is a widely-voiced observation that Turkish parliamentarians have weak ties with their constituents; ordinary citizens see their member of Parliament (MP) only before the elections and never again until the next one. This is a typical behavioral pattern found in closed-list proportional systems, as applied in Turkey. The current system does not create enough incentives for MPs to devote their scarce resources to citizen-related activities. It encourages MPs to concentrate on their partisan, parliamentary, or governmental activities because their chances of re-election depend on their parties rather than on their electorates. In closed-list proportional systems, a good and safe position on the ballot is the chief determining factor for re-election of most of the MPs. And it is the political parties and their leadership who decide whom will get such positions.

Single-member constituencies, in contrast, create a different set of incentives and thus lead to unique behavioral patterns among parliamentarians. The district magnitude of one provides opportunities for relatively strong links between representatives and their constituency to develop. An electorate in Kadıköy, whose district is collaboratively represented by 30 MPs in the current electoral design, would have one representative in a single-member constituency system. Research conducted across electoral systems unsurprisingly show that distinctively higher proportion of electorates can name their representatives in single-member districts. For electorates and well as for their representatives, this makes it easier to answer the basic question of representation: who represents what by which means? When there is only one representative for a given district, the links of delegation and accountability become clearer.

If electorates can name and monitor their representatives better, there is also the possibility of shaming them in the next elections. Unlike in the current system, a place on the ballot does not guarantee a parliamentary seat for any candidate. Local party branches are typically more influential in the candidate selection in single-member constituencies although party leadership still have the last word. However, voters can punish an incumbent, albeit at a high cost of punishing their party at the same time. As a result, MPs from single-member districts prioritize constituency services higher than their colleagues do from multi-member districts. There are evidently more contacts between MPs and their constituents in single-member districts.

Legislative behavior is one of the several areas where electoral reforms have consequences. A time frame of two months before the summer recess might prove too tight for all these consequences to be carefully considered or widely deliberated. Without these processes of open discussion, it would be even harder to define an electoral reform as a measure of democratization.

Why is no one excited about the resumption of negotiations?

Hürriyet Daily News

hurriyet

With the opening of Chapter 22, Turkey and the European Union have resumed the negotiation process on the accession of Turkey to the EU after an interruption of almost three-and-a-half years. This announcement comes at a time when public support for negotiations is lower than ever. Nevertheless, the lack of elite support poses an even greater risk.

Although the figures vary from one survey to another, moderate estimates show that currently fewer than 40 percent of Turkish people believe that it would be a good thing if Turkey joined the EU. In other words, the support for accession has diminished by half since the beginning of negotiations. On the other hand, support among European citizens is as low as always; only 20 percent are in favor of the accession. If one thing that the various surveys fully agree upon, it is the fact that the support behind the negotiations points to a clear downtrend.

This trend did not seem to trouble the minister for EU affairs, Egemen Bağış, and the EU enlargement commissioner, Stefan Füle, representatives of both sides, when they announced the resumption of negotiations on Nov. 5. They probably know the history of European integration too well to be bothered about the lack of popular support.

The relationship between the EU and the citizens of the union has hardly been an intimate one so far. European integration started as a project of politicians and civil servants rather than the peoples of Europe. The history of European integration betrays a similar pattern throughout. It includes processes that have been developed far from and sometimes in spite of the people. This way of development eases the formulation and implementation of policies but comes at a cost of alienating the public from the whole process. As a result, European citizens have difficulties in identifying themselves with the process of European integration. This inevitably opens a gap between the union and its citizens.

This gap becomes rather unmistakable at the times of direct voting by citizens. The EU has failed to find acceptance for elite-led political developments through referenda several times in the past.

However, the leaders of the EU are known for not taking no as an answer. As long as they believe in a project, they will find a way around the lack of public support, such as repeating referenda or changing the approval process altogether, as evident from the case of the ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty.

Therefore, the lack of popular support or the “threat” from some member states to put the issue to a referendum even if the negotiation process ends successfully is not the main obstacle on the way to Turkey’s future in the EU. Rather, the question is whether the political leaders of both sides believe in the matter.

Obviously, it is not down to Mr. Bağış and Mr. Füle alone, but to a much wider group of political leaders. To a certain extent, irrespective of what their voters think, the way this group perceives Turkey-EU relations will affect the rest of the course of the negotiations as well as the final outcome.

Unfortunately, there is no similar data available on the level of support among the political elites for the Turkey to join the union. Still, there are all the signs in the political discourse that the figure among the political elites with regards to the support for negotiations is similar to the one mentioned above.

Discourses of reluctance, mistrust, and blind opposition from both sides have increasingly been gaining ground within the political discussion on Turkey’s accession to the EU. The fact that the negotiations had been halted for over three years has unsurprisingly worsened the situation. It will take a lot of hard work to reverse this particular drift, which is more important than the opening or closing of any negotiation chapter, if only it can ever be achieved.

Otherwise, as things stand, there is very little to be excited about the opening of a chapter.

Gaining full membership

Hürriyet Daily News

hurriyet

While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Europe to meet his Finnish, Swedish, and Polish counterparts, all of whom are members of the European People’s Party (EPP), his deputy chairman Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was in Brussels to end the Justice and Development (AK) Party’s membership in the EPP by switching to the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) instead.

The AK Party joined the EPP in 2004 as an observer member, as Mr. Çavuşoğlu puts it, “with written and verbal promises” of full membership from Brussels. However, the promise of full membership was never realized due to the objections of some EPP members. According to Mr. Çavuşoğlu, the “crisis of confidence” that this broken promise has caused is the main reason behind the break up.

The story of the AK Party within the EPP overwhelmingly resembles that of Turkey in the European Union (EU). So much so that, if the words AK Party and the EPP are replaced with Turkey and the EU respectively within the above, the text we have would not be far off from the truth.

The question is then; will the two stories continue to resemble each other in the future, and if so, what can be argued for the future of the EU-Turkey relations from this analogy?

Operating at the EU level, European political parties bring together national political parties and individuals around broad ideological bases. With respect to ideology, the EPP and the AECR have a lot in common. They are both center-right and conservative parties that share principles such as individual freedom, environmentalism, and subsidiarity.

Moreover, both have strong opponents against Turkey’s accession into the EU among their members.

The EPP is one of the oldest and largest of parties at the European level; it has the lion’s share in each of the three institutions of the EU. For example, out of 28 heads of state or governments within the European Council, 14 political leaders are affiliated with the EPP. Furthermore, the Presidents of the Council and the Commission are also from this party. In this sense, opponents among the members of the EPP are likely to have political power in their hands as well, such as Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, and her Christian Democratic Union.

On the other hand, the AECR, founded only in 2009, is one of the youngest Europarties. The only member of AECR that heads a government in the EU is the British Conservative Party, which is known for being a proponent of Turkey’s accession. In other words, although not all members of the AECR support Turkey’s membership, opponents among the ranks of the AECR are those who have considerably less power in the EU’s decision making process.

Still, the divide between the two parties goes much further than that. It is their vision for the future of the Union that separates them the most. While the EPP wants to continue to construct a European Political Union, the AECR aims to radically reform the EU in order to reinstate the sovereignty of nation states. This is one of the reasons why the latter is largely labeled as a Euro-skeptic party. For instance, the AECR intends to delete the phrase “an ever closer” from the EU treaty – a flagship expression to which the members of the EPP are fully committed.

The AK Party waited almost a decade to become a member of the EPP before it decided to switch Europarties. Likewise, Turkey has been waiting for over five decades to become a member of the EU that has been dominated by the EPP since the beginning of the millennium. However, switching is not an option for Turkey as there is only one EU. It can be transformed rather, and AK Party’s position, especially with the resumed negotiation process, with regards to the AECR’s will and effort to transform the EU deserves a closer look.

It is not surprising the AK Party has found it easier to become a full member of a Europarty that wants to create a reformed, to a certain extent deconstructed, and loose Union of sovereign states. It would not be surprising if Turkey will have found it easier one day to become a member of such a Union.

Britons, MPs suffer a ‘communication deficit’ on EU affairs

euractiv.com

Euractiv

When James Wharton, the backbench Conservative MP for Stockton South, proposed a legislation leading to a referendum on the membership of the United Kingdom (UK) to the European Union (EU) against the wishes of his prime minister, he must have envisaged some problems on the way of his move. However, the question proposed for the referendum shows that he did not expect the latest problem arising due to the communication deficit in the EU affairs.

The UK, as a member state, reconsiders its membership status to the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron promises an in-or-out referendum by the end of 2017, subject to political conditions. However, backbenchers, who do not want to wait that long and reject the conditionality of the promise, have gone ahead with a “private members’ bill” and started the legislative process for the “European Union (Referendum) Bill 2013-14”.

As a part of this process, the Electoral Commission has recently completed its work on the proposed referendum question: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?”. Having interviewed numerous members of the British society to find out whether the question is clear and impartial, the Commission has observed that not everyone is aware of the fact that the UK is already in the EU. Therefore, the question needs to be reformulated accordingly.

This appeared to shock a number of British elites as some of their fellow citizens of the country, a member of the EU for over 40 years, do not know anything about a Union that has been deeply affecting their lives. Prime Minister Cameron once estimated that “almost half of all the regulations affecting our businesses come from the EU”. Although the percentage changes from one member state to another and there is not an agreed-upon figure for any country, we can say that Mr Cameron’s assessment is not far off the truth.

This whole situation clearly points out to a communication deficit. On the one hand, some citizens have not heard of a fact. On the other, some politicians are not aware of the obliviousness in the society. This communication problem is not particular to a referendum question or a country. It is deeply rooted in the so-called “democratic deficit” of the EU in general, and particularly in the way the members of parliament (MPs) behave within the EU affairs.

There are thousands of intergovernmental bodies and any state is typically a member of several of these bodies. An ordinary citizen does not have to know all about them. This is why they delegate some of their rights to their political representatives.

Parliaments have many functions, which can be grouped into two: those related to government and those related to citizens. In this sense, for instance, government-related functions include scrutiny and legislative tasks while citizen-related functions cover representation and communication. This crucial role of communicating the political matters to citizens is thought to rest on the shoulders of the participants of representation; namely the individual MPs, political parties and their groups in the parliament, and the parliament as a whole. As communication is a two way process which also necessitates listening and understanding, individual members of parliament have a considerable advantage and thus responsibility compared to the institutional representatives such as parties and parliament.

Communication is a fundamental part of the representative role of parliamentarians. They need to engage in an effective communication with their electorates. It is important not only for the MPs to learn the interests and concerns in their constituencies to voice in the parliament but also for those very interests and concerns to emerge. In order for citizens to form beliefs, ideas, and interests that will later be represented by their MPs, they need to be informed about competing choices in the political agenda. If there is no belief, idea, or interest to be represented, the basic principle of representative democracy would be damaged.

Despite being fundamentally important, scarce but existing evidence shows that communication of EU affairs has been largely ignored by the parliamentarians in the EU. They have so far concentrated rather on the government-related functions. Establishment of specialized European affairs committees in member states, cooperation of these individual committees, and increase in their ability and rule are the important examples of this concentration.

As long as parliamentarians are not willing to involve communication of EU affairs within their constituency work, public will continue to lack even the very basic knowledge of EU affairs while politicians will never know their constituents well enough to formulate a simple question that they can understand about the EU.

Therefore, any attempt to find a remedy for the democratic deficit in the EU needs to take the communication deficit into account. The incentives for MPs to communicate EU affairs and the institutional constraints on these incentives deserve a closer attention from both practitioners and theoreticians of politics.