Summary of the breakout conversation “Ankara’s Course and its Consequences: What is the impact of a changing Turkey?” at the 2010 Annual Members’ Conference.


Henri Barkey, Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Professor, Lehigh University
Ana Palacio, Former Foreign Minister of Spain; Former Member of European Parliament
Ross Wilson, Director, Atlantic Council Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center; Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey
Moderated by Frances Burwell, Vice President and Director, Transatlantic Relations Program, Atlantic Council


This session brought together three leading experts on Turkey to discuss Ankara’s foreign and domestic policy trajectories.

The recent changes to Turkey’s constitution made up a major topic of discussion. On September 12, 2010, Turkish voters overwhelming approved an extensive set of constitutional reforms. A particularly controversial amendment gives the executive branch more power in appointing judges and state prosecutors. Whether the change is reform for the better or contributes to the consolidation of AKP power will depend on how it is implemented and incorporated into law.

The vote was a political victory for the ruling party, the AKP, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been able to remain an agent of change after seven years in office. He has now captured a significant portion of the nationalist and Kurdish vote, and the win gives him more confidence as he runs for reelection. Opposition groups unsuccessfully attempted to frame the constitutional vote a referendum on those in power.

Yet for all of the attention they received, it is clear that amendments are only a temporary fix. Turkey will need to change its entire constitution in order to become a member of the European Union.

Under AKP rule, there have been changes to both domestic and foreign policy. But other factors are at play, namely Turkish economic growth (which relies on exports), a desire to maintain good relations with regional neighbors, attempts to increase its international stature, and the realization that membership in the European Union is a distant prospect. Turkey needs to balance its aspirations with its traditional alliances, but it is not adrift from Europe, NATO, or the United States. The U.S.-Turkey relationship has always been difficult. Even in times of difficultly, the United States needs Turkey to solve problems and pursuit U.S. interests in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

-Summary by Michelle Smith, Assistant Director, Patriciu Eurasia Center

This session was held under Atlantic Council Rules, defined by President and CEO Frederick Kempe as “Chatham House Rules with military enforcement.” 

Related Experts: Ross Wilson