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Saatcioğlu, Beken. “Rising illiberalism in the European periphery and the EU’s application of membership conditionality for democratic governance.” In EU Good Governance Promotion in the Age of Democratic Decline, pp. 49-70. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2022.


Illiberalism has recently risen both within the EU and in the European periphery following a global trend of democratic recession, which includes notable cases such as Hungary, Poland, and Turkey, among others. This has revived interest in the EU’s role and capacity for promoting liberal democratic governance, as the principal international institution with claims to liberal democratic rule transfer. This chapter investigates how consistently the EU has used its principal policy instrument to tackle illiberalism, namely, membership conditionality. It focuses on EU-Turkey relations within the context of the 2015/2016 Syrian refugee crisis as a test case for the EU’s ability and willingness to execute conditionality in times of crisis. Two arguments are made. First, as the EU externalised the crisis to Turkey, consistency of conditionality was compromised by European geostrategic interests that trumped the pursuit of democratic values vis-à-vis Turkey. Second, the strategic EU-Turkey partnership that ensued served to deepen Turkey’s move away from the EU’s democratic norms that lie at the heart of political conditionality. Consequently, unintended illiberal outcomes were fostered by the EU’s transactional policy vis-à-vis Turkey.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.