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The EU’s Turkish Opening

MADRID ‒ June’s Turkish general election sent a powerful message: Turkey’s democracy remains intact. Indeed, while there were some grievances about transparency during the campaign process, democracy prevailed, with a stunning 86% of eligible voters turning out – a rate rarely seen in Europe. The rest of the world – and especially the European Union – should take note.

With their votes, Turkey’s citizens denied the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) the absolute majority that it needed to amend the constitution. Moreover, by giving the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – which brings together the country’s long-marginalized Kurdish minority and other groups – more than 10% of the vote, they enabled the party to enter parliament for the first time, with representation throughout the country, not just in Kurd-majority areas. Reinforcing this triumph of pluralism, the Alevi and Christian minority groups won greater parliamentary representation, and the Yazidis and Roma will be represented for the first time.

The new parliamentary configuration is likely to have a major impact on Turkey’s foreign policy, which has faced serious challenges in the last few years. Indeed, as regional conflicts have intensified, the country’s central foreign-policy objective of ensuring “zero problems” with its neighbors has become unattainable. And the policies that Turkey has pursued, most notably toward Syria and Egypt, have satisfied neither the region’s Sunni-majority countries nor the West.

Perhaps more important, the AKP government’s foreign policy has faced considerable criticism from domestic forces, which now have more power to change it – an outcome that will occur regardless of whether the AKP ultimately forms a coalition or a minority government. The direction of change will have to account for the various parties’ preferred approaches.