Turkish context; reflections from the government, business and trade unions

Center for European Studies / Middle East Technical University
Starting as a credit crunch in the US sub-prime mortgage market, the economic crisis soon became a global phenomenon. Not only financial institutions, but also real sector corporations have been severely influenced by this crisis. What is more, global economic governance is now under serious scrutiny for the lack of transparency, regulation and co-ordination. Economists like Joseph E. Stiglitz, point out the need for “more global and more robust oversight” that would prevent excessive risk taking, myopic behavior in financial markets, bad accounting and lack of transparency.[1] The hegemony of the USA in the world financial system has been challenged with the recent financial crisis so that the bipolar structure of the world system has reached its turning point.[2] At this juncture, there emerged a search for a new ‘Bretton Woods’. The European leaders aimed to lay down guidelines for co-ordinated action which was named by the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, as “the birth of a ‘European economic government’”.[3]
Existing within the global web of social and economic interconnectedness and in the economic hinterland of the EU, Turkey has deeply felt the effects of the financial crisis at a large scale, but at a later time compared to the member states of the EU. Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, previously argued that the effect of the crisis was not very profound but psychologically exaggerated.[4] President Abdullah Gül, warned about the potential harmful effects of the crisis, indicated the importance of both national and international solidarity and called for a coordinated action of all the parties such as business and trade unions.[5] The Minister of State, Kürşat Tüzmen, stating the expectation of reduction in the exports of Turkey to the EU, encouraged Turkish exporters to seek for new markets such as the Middle East, Asia, Africa and declared provision of fresh credit opportunities.[6]
The Turkish business circles criticized the government for not being able to anticipate the financial crisis in advance. On the business side, such as “Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association” (TÜSİAD), “The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey” (TOBB), are highly supportive of Turkey’s accession to the EU and share the same opinion that the encouraging developments in Turkey’s EU accession process will have positive reflections for both sides in the disheartening atmosphere of the financial crisis.[7] Bahadır Kaleağası, TÜSİAD representative in Brussels, indicated that the financial crisis may create an opportunity for Turkey on the path to become a member state of the EU, should the EU overcome the crisis as a global actor with a global vision considering enlargement as one of the means of eliminating the anxieties in global competitiveness. He continued that Turkey ought to accelerate the political and economic reform process as these reforms are in line with the measures taken for the prevention of the financial crisis.[8] Likewise, Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu, the president of TOBB, declared that just as the crisis of 2001 provided an opportunity to accomplish structural reforms, the current crisis could be a chance to speed up the reform process. In this respect, accelerating Turkey’s accession to the EU could provide a significant anchor.[9]
The labour unions and trade associations hold a rather different position regarding Turkey-EU relations. Indeed, some trade unions such as the “Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey” (DISK), and “Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions” (KESK), declared a programme titled “Social Solidarity and Democratisation” in which protectionist policies are proposed. To be more concrete, they recommended the suspension of customs union and called for limitations to the export of capital.[10]

[1] J. E. Stiglitz: ‘Markets Can’t Rule Themselves’, in: Newsweek Special Edition: Issues 2009, 31 December 2008.

[2] Sabah: ‘AB Zirvesi Ekonomik Kriz Gündemi ile Başladı’, 15 October 2008.

[3] The Economist.net: ‘The European Summit, Seeking an End to the Madness’, 16 October 2008

[4] Hurriyet: ‘Erdoğan’ın kriz sözlüğüne şimdi de “psikolojik” girdi’, 25 December 2008.

[5] Nethaber: ‘Cumhurbaşkanı Gül: ‘Uzaklardan gelen büyük dalgalar Türkiye gemisini de sallamaya başladı’, 19 December 2008.

[6] Radikal: ‘İnişe geçen krizden notlar’, 3 December 2008.

[7] Milliyet: ‘Hisarcıklıoğlu “Türkiye-AB katılım müzakerelerinin yavaşlığı endişe verici”’, 14 January 2009.

[8] EU-Turkey News Network: ‘Kaleagasi: Kriz Turkiye icin AB firsati olabilir’, 17 December 2008.

[9] The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey: ‘Reform Sürecimizi Devam Ettirmemizin Gerekli Olduğunu Her Fırsatta Vurguluyoruz’, 15 December 2008.

[10] Evrensel: ‘Krize karşı program önerisi’, 29 October 2008.