On Colonial Self-Perceptions: The European Union, Turkey and the “bad” leader

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Abstract

This essay explores the impact of Europe’s colonial past on the nature of the European Union’s engagement with Turkey as a candidate country, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It begins by arguing the European Union’s role as a normative power replicates a colonial trope of external engagement that assumes the world beyond the metropole is violent, barbaric and uncivil. Yet this perception is also self-referential whereby the “badness” of the colonized is meant to underline the metropole’s moral and material superiority. A similar assumption about the world that exceeds its territorial limits informs the “logic” of the European Union’s accession process as candidate countries like Turkey are expected to pursue and eventually embody European (“good”) values. In this regard, responding to Erdoğan’s severe crackdown on political dissent and civil liberties following a failed coup attempt in 2016, the European Union’s censorious rhetoric towards his “bad” conduct is expected and warranted. Yet, drawing on public statements made by the European Union justifying the eventual suspension of negotiations and accession talks with Turkey, this essay argues Erdoğan, as a “bad” leader, also helps furbish the European Union’s self-perception as a moral and ethical entity. That is to say, the “bad” Turkish leader serves as a contrasting background against which the European Union is able to present itself as a force for good.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInterventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies
Volume22
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)763-782
Number of pages20
ISSN1369-801X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

in Special Issue: “Imperial Pasts in the EU’s Approach to the Mediterranean” edited by Michelle Pace and Roberto Roccu.

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