Turkey’s relations with the European Union (EU) have a long history. Almost from the establishment of the EU, Turkey has been interacting with the EU on several levels and to different degrees. It has pursued, over the last two hundred years, a policy of Westernisation; and EU membership has been generally seen as the final goal of this quest, the last step in bringing Turkey to Europe, where it belongs. Indeed, Turkey has experienced many positive changes in its economic, political and cultural life in the course of the EU membership process, changes that would be unimaginable without this relationship with the EU. However, Turkey’s interactions with the EU have also had negative, unintended and counterproductive effects and shifted its definitions of ‘self’ and ‘other’ in opposing directions.
Within the framework of its relations with Turkey, the EU has not only questioned Turkey’s self-definition as European, but has also given Turkey mixed signals regarding its acceptance into the EU. Historically, the ‘Turk’, or the ‘Saracen’, has been the dominant ‘other’, the darker side of Europe, because of the military might and physical proximity of the Ottoman Empire, combined with the strength of its religious tradition. It was also the relevant ‘other’ in the development of European identity. The European self was defined from the beginning in terms of what it was not. The non-European Turk as the ‘other’ of Europe played a decisive role in the evolution of the European identity. Based on this historically constructed image, Turkey has continued to be the ideal ‘other’ of the EU.