Limits of cosmopolitanism?: European Commission officials on the selves and others.

Author:Suvarierol, Semin
Position:Reprint - Report


With its institutional motto of "unity in diversity," the European Union (EU) officially embraces a cosmopolitan outlook. This article argues that this motto becomes reality within the institutions of the EU as the officials undergo a cosmopolitan transformation process by experiencing cultural diversity on a daily basis. This cosmopolitanism, however, is not without limits. The discussions on Turkey's EU candidacy are a case in point. By analyzing the discourses of Commission officials with regard to their own identity as well as their discourses on the Turkish elite, this article assesses the extent and limits of cosmopolitanism in the European Commission and its general implications for the EU.


cosmopolitanism, EU, Turkey, European Commission


With its institutional motto of "united in diversity," the self-definition of the European Union (EU) is cosmopolitanist in the sense that it recognizes and builds upon the diversity of cultures within Europe. Within this EU-wide institutional discourse, the diversity that comes with twenty-seven member states and twenty-three official languages is conceptualized as richness instead of a barrier for cooperation. Cosmopolitan assumptions are also built into EU governance through mechanisms that ensure the representation of member states throughout EU institutions. Indeed, the multicultural character of EU institutions has received much scholarly attention, (1) addressing the question of how officials with different nationalities work together in the daily governance of the EU and pointing out to the "transnational" (2) or the "cosmopolitan" (3) identities of EU officials.

From its outset, European integration has had a "cosmopolitan momentum" (4) and, as it stands today, the EU and its supranational governance is often understood as a form of "institutionalized cosmopolitism." (5) However, the fact that cosmopolitan ideals are embedded in the conception of the EU is not sufficient to justify a cosmopolitan status. Most significantly, if national attachments have not been replaced by a cosmopolitan outlook, it could mean that the EU represents an expanded form of nationalism, or "Euro-nationalism." (6) In Edgar Grande's terms, "supranationalism bears the risk of degenerating into a European supernationalism." (7)

The presumed cosmopolitanism of the EU has indeed been challenged, especially during discussions of the European Constitution with regard to the defining characteristics and the boundaries of the EU. The relevance and urgency of these existential identity debates is partly linked to the issue of Turkey's accession to the EU. (8) This is mainly because this proposed accession is often contested on grounds of the "goodness of fit" between Turkey's "European" credentials and the future order of the European project. The question of whether there are limits to the cultural diversity which the EU is able to unite appears to be fundamental and demands to be addressed above and beyond the technical criteria of EU accession. Whereas cosmopolitanism is by definition oriented toward some kind of common world identity, renewed calls for drawing the limits of Europe draw attention to an important contradiction, for, as Owen Parker has put it, "as soon as geographical or cognitive borders are established around the concept of cosmopolitanism, the very essentialisms that cosmopolitans as critics have traditionally sought to confront are reproduced." (9)

The potential accession of Turkey, whose credentials have been challenged in terms of identity and Turkey's potential inability to act "European," (10) thus constitutes a critical litmus test for claims about the cosmopolitanism of the EU. Whereas the EU's official policy has been to conceive of Turkey's accession bid as a further potential "foothold" for a cosmopolitan outlook, (11) concerns about cultural incompatibility have rested on the argument that "Turkey will struggle to assimilate the liberal values of modern(ist) Europe, as these are simply irreconcilable with its primordial Islamic identity." (12)

In this article, we work from the premise that "cosmopolitanism is a two-way relationship in which encounters with the Other require a mutual acceptance of living with differences and of the possibility of being transformed as a result of this encounter." (13) We analyze the conceptualizations of cosmopolitan identity within the EU from the perspective of this cosmopolitan premise and question the extent to which this cosmopolitanism extends to include Turkey as a prospective member of the EU. After a summary of the theoretical debate on cosmopolitanism, identity, Turkey, and the EU, we briefly present the empirical data on which we base our analysis. Next, we explore the conceptualizations of identity within the institutional context of the European Commission. We then move on to the discourses of Commission officials with regard to their perceptions of the Turkish elite based on their encounters with them in the framework of the accession process. On the basis of these findings, we evaluate the extent and limits of cosmopolitanism in the Commission.

Cosmopolitanism and Identity in the EU

The engagement of critical approaches to international relations with the dynamics of Turkish accession goes back to late 1990s when Turkish pleas to be included in the same accession queue with Central and Eastern European countries were rebuffed by European leaders in the 1997 Luxembourg Summit Iver Neumann had argued that it was Turkey's image as an "historical Other" that prevented it from being included as a full member of the European community. (14) Bahar Rumelili pushed this point further by highlighting how official EU discourse has constructed Turkey as a liminal country that can be included only through evaluations on the "acquired properties" of membership, such as democracy and human rights, and excluded to the extent that "inherent properties" such as religion are taken into consideration. (15) Other scholars have drawn on Jurgen Habermas' work on argumentative rationality to argue that official arguments used to justify Turkish accession in the EU have rested only on "interest based" arguments about Turkey's strategic value or its economy rather than the cultural bases of justification that were used in arguments for the inclusion of Central and Eastern European countries in the EU. It was then argued that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have been prioritized in the enlargement process at the expense of Turkey because it was not perceived to be a sufficiently European country. (16) More recently, in analyses pertaining to the European Commission, there has been a tendency to denote the European Commission as a "cosmopolitan agent" in enlargement policy that treats Turkey solely on the basis of acquired criteria such as democracy, human rights, or economic governance while upholding a "cosmopolitan identity" that is inclusive of Turkey. (17)

While these works have all highlighted the significance of identity based dynamics in the analysis of Turkey-EU relations, their focus of analysis was mainly on the official statements of the EU leaders and/or enlargement Commissioners. By contrast, this study focuses on the individuals working within the European Commission bureaucracy. The Commission is a central actor in the internal institutional structure of the EU and represents the supranational norms of the EU as the institution endowed with the role to represent the overarching European interest. Furthermore, the identities of Commission officials have often been described as "cosmopolitan." (18) How this cosmopolitan identity is played out and how this self-identity relates to the officials' vision of Europe and Europeanness could be essential in shaping the debates on the future of European integration. In this respect, enlargement policy is crucial in defining the boundaries of the EU by determining which countries to include (in-group)/exclude (out-group) and under which conditions.

The Commission is a key EU player that is "engaged in all stages of the enlargement process." (19) The power of the Commission in the enlargement policy is twofold. The Commission employs a significant amount of discursive power in both the member states and the applicant countries in question by shaping the terms of enlargement debates via the regular evaluations it provides on the applicant countries. (20) Furthermore, through its official/legal role as negotiator and initiator of policy through recommendations to the Council, it also exercises power by "governing," where the discursive power becomes institutionalized in a way in which it officially and forcefully conditions the "possibilities of action" (21) for both the member states and the applicant countries.

Although enlargement-related desks and units of the Commission prepare the main reports and other policy-related documents upon which much of the official discourse rests, there is little information about how Turkish identity is conceptualized by these European civil servants, who do not express their views publicly. By focusing on the discourses of Commission officials on their Turkish counterparts, we limit ourselves to the analysis of a "most likely case" of transformation in terms of changing the conceptions of the Self and the Other. This is because, first, elites are more likely to adjust their ideas on the basis of new information; and second, because direct contact might lessen thinking about the Other in stereotypical terms as one gets to know the Other better. As such, this study addresses the question of how Turkey challenges the cosmopolitan imaginary of the European Commission, pushing for the development of novel, and more cosmopolitan, conceptualizations of identity in EU institutions. Analyzing the discourses of the Commission elite on the Turkish elite offers insights about how much Turkey fits in the...

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