Europeanization Decoupled? Fighting Corruption in Turkey

The decision of the EU to grant Turkey candidate status in Helsinki Summit in 1999 and the financial crisis of 2000–2001 have given rise to a more serious and a comprehensive fight against corruption in the country. Since then, Turkey‘s anti-corruption legislation is robust on paper. Yet, the amendemetns in legal infrastructure and in most of the administrative institutions and mechanisms, however, are not operated properly in practice. The recent legal amendments seem to be largely decoupled from the prevailing informal institutions and behavioral practices which explains why corruption has remained at a persistently high level, and still affects many spheres of public life in Turkey.

In 1999, Turkey obtained an accession perspective with the decision of the Helsinki European Council. Since then, there had been deep-seated reforms in response to the Copenhagen criteria and acquis communautaire in the country(Aydın/Keyman 2004; Baç 2005; Öniş 2006; Tocci 2005). Yet, like in the Western Balkans, the formal adoption of the EU rules has been often decoupled from behavioural practices in most of the policy areas (see Börzel/Soyaltin 2012). While ruling elites have formally adopted a massive amount of EU legislation, this, however, has not changed actors’ behaviors or fostered internalization and has given rise to “shallow Europeanization” (Goetz 2005) as we have witnessed in most of the Central and Eastern European countries. The anti-corruption policy does not seem like an exception.

Corruption is narrowly defined as the abuse of power for private gain.[1] Corruption has been a severe and permanent problem in Turkey. Mostly overlooked by the media, political actors and academia, corruption was listed as one of the most serious and acute problems along with unemployment and poverty in several public surveys and global barometers[2] (Adaman 2011; Sarlak/Bali 2008). The pervasiveness of the corruption in Turkey has also been recognized by international organizations. For instance, in the Corruption Perceptions Indexes (CPI) of Transparency International, which can be regarded as one of the most popular index measuring perceptions of corruption, place Turkey among the group of countries perceived as the most corrupt in Europe. [3] Moreover, in the World Bank Governance Index that identifies major governance failures, the level of corruption seems to be severely high and despite some fluctuations over the years[4].

Corruption has been mostly associated with the authoritarian political systems with limited political freedoms and administrative capacities and the economies in which the functioning of the market is distorted by state interventions and intransparent regulatory framework (Sandholtz/Koetzle 2000; Shen/Wiliamson 2005). In Turkey, the paternalistic mode of governance (father state) and centralized bureaucratic machinery that are inherited from the Ottoman Empire, turned into a web of patronage based networks with the introduction of multi-party politics in 1950s. These clientelisitic relations perpetuated due to several institutional factors, such as the gap between center and periphery, lack of civil mobilization, the limits on political freedoms, rights, and democracy in general, and the calcification of bureaucratic mechanisms (Mardin 1973; Buğra 1994; Güneş-Ayata 1994, Baran 2000). Today the continuing state tradition and socio-political and administrative culture shape the implementation of the adopted laws and the effectiveness of the institutions (Ömürgönülşen /Doig 2012).

The decision of the EU to grant Turkey candidate status in Helsinki Summit in 1999 and the financial crisis of 2000–2001 have given rise to a more serious and a comprehensive fight against corruption in the country (Acar/Emek 2008). A series of structural reforms and large-scale anti-corruption operations have been launched since then, aiming to restructure the legal framework and the public institutions in order to enhance the main principles of the good governance in the provision of public services; namely efficiency, transparency, and accountability (Aydın/Çarkoğlu 2009, Bryane 2004). Although there is no indication of the benchmarks employed to assess corruption levels that would be considered sufficient by the Commission or a clear corruption-fighting acquis, countries wishing to become members of the EU are expected to develop a comprehensive strategy in order to fight against corruption and need to put them into practice in daily life (Vachudova 2009). There are a number of other areas that do not fall under the label of anti-corruption policy per se, yet, are clearly regarded as of major importance in the fight against corruption. The most important of these are: public procurement, civil service reform, state financial control and audit, and judicial reforms.  Apart from that, EU membership requires to accede, ratify and imple­ment several international conventions that are related to the fight against corruption, including the UN conven­tion on Corruption, the Council of Europe Criminal and Civil Law Conventions and the OECD Convention Anti-bribery Convention.

In order to abide with their international obligations, the recent govern­ments have taken crucial reform steps. Between 1999 and 2002, the tripartite coalition government formed by the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the Motherland Party (ANAP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) had initiated the reforms. In 2001 National Action Plan on Increasing Transparency in Turkey and Enhancing Good Governance in Public Sector has been issued and a ministerial Anti Corruption Committee has established to monitor the implementation of the plan.  In 2002, Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained a landslide victory in general elections and strongly underlined that it would be a party in the service of nation for a decisive struggle against corruption. The AKP government has immediately launched an urgent Action Plan in 2002 to combat poverty, injustice and corruption. The government’s commitment to the fight against corruption continued with issuing a national strategy for enhancing transparency and strengthening the fight against corruption, including an action plan (2010-2014) in 2009.

In line with the action plans, AKP governments have adopted a number of important legal changes in to meet the requirements of the Copenhagen political criteria and acquis in fighting against corruption. First the law on Combating Bribery and Corruption that was entered in force in 1990 has been in 2003, and again in 2004 in order to provide additional measures to make the law operate more efficiently. New laws and by-laws have entered into force such as the Law on the Right to Information, the Law about the Foundation of the Council of Ethics for the Public Service, and the By-Law concerning the Principles of Ethical Behaviour of the Public Servants, the Law on Turkish Court of Accounts, the Law on Public Procurement, the Law on Public Financial Management and Control. The new Penal Code that was adopted in 2005 has brought clear provisions on corruption offences. A Law on Public Inspection Authority (Ombudsman) has been adopted but canceled by Constitutional Court (Ergün 2007;Ömürgönülşen /Doig 2012).

Besides legal changes, several institutional-administrative arrangements have been made. The Council of Ethics for the Public Service was established in 2004; the Prime Minister Inspection Board was appointed as the counterpart of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). The organizational laws of many public bodies (e.g., the Banking Regulatory and Supervision Agency, the Public Procurement Agency have been amended in order to cover several important anti-corruption measures and ethical rules of conduct (Ömürgönülşen /Doig 2012).

In addition to efforts conducted at the national level in fighting corruption, Turkey has ratified main international convention on fighting corruption. More importantly Turkey has joined international anti-corruption networks, such as the ‘Group of States against Corruption’ (GRECO), and has agreed to implement their recommendation. By June 2010, Turkey has satisfactorily or partially implemented 15 of the 21 recommendations made in 2005 first and second evaluation reports by GRECO[5]. In a similar vein, OECD Working Group on Bribery has recently announced that Turkey has satisfactorily fulfilled most of the recommendations, which were mentioned in 2007 Review Report.[6]

On paper, Turkey‘s anticorruption legislation is robust (Adaman 2011; Albion 2011; Ömürgönülşen /Doig 2012).  Yet, the amendemetns in legal infrastructure and in most of the administrative institutions and mechanisms, however, are not operated properly in practice. In the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Turkey was ranked as 64 of 180 with a score of 4.1 in 2007, whereas in 2011 the score did not change that much: Turkey is ranked 61 of 182 with a score of 4.2. The TI has mentioned that Turkey made no progress compared with the last year.

The recent legal amendments seem to be largely decoupled from the prevailing informal institutions and behavioral practices which explains why corruption has remained at a persistently high level, and still affects many spheres of public life in Turkey. Moreover during this time the corruption perception of the public has not changed significantly. The zero tolerance to corrution strategy of the government has been not enough to change the perceptions of the public who think that political parties, parliament/legislature and public officials/civil servants are still the most corrupt institutions in the country[7]. The European Commission’s Progress Report on Turkey 2010 also makes a remark, claiming that ‘effective implementation of the strategy is necessary to reduce corruption[8]’. The progress report in 2011 repeats the limited progress that has been made on implementing the strategy and the action plan to combat corruption’[9].

More time is needed to have effective results after changes in legal framework and institutional structure. Yet, the fragmented structure of the administrative systems (i.e. many legal documents and control institutions) as well as insufficient co-ordination and communication between the main players and parties are the main obstacles to enforce an effective anti-corruption policy in Turkey (Acar/Emek 2008; Ömürgönülşen/ Öktem 2005, Ömürgönülşen/ Doig 2012; Michael 2004). A comprehensive and united anti-corruption strategy and an anti-corruption unit would increase the ability of the government to prevent and control corruption. Furthermore, effective training with respect to corruption-related crimes and codes of ethics within the public administration is an indispensable measure in ensuring and enhancing implementation of adopted anti-corruption measures, and building a clean government.

In this regard the Project of Ethics for the Prevention of Corruption in Turkey (TYEC), which was organized, by the EU and the Council of Europe is worth mentioning. The project aimed to develop codes of ethics for public officials and to build systems of monitoring the effectiveness of prevention and other anti-corruption measures. Yet, these reform efforts would be decoupled from rule-consistent behaviors and not have much effect on level of corruption in the country without existence of watchdog institutions monitoring the activities of the government such as strong civil society organizations, a free and open media, and an independent Public Inspection Authority.

Diğdem Soyaltın

Please cite this article as follows:

Soyaltın, Diğdem (May, 2012), “Europeanization Decoupled? Fighting Corruption in Turkey”, Vol. I, Issue 3, pp. 35-41, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London: ResearchTurkey (

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[2] See TESEV’s 2001 study “Household View on the Causes of Corruption in Turkey and Suggested Preventive Measures”, Transparency International: Global Corruption Barometer 2004, in:

[3] Transparency International: Corruption Perception Index 2011, in:

[4] World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators, Country Data Report for Turkey (1996-2010), in:

[5] GRECO, Compliance Report on Turkey, Joint First and Second Round Evaluation, Greco RC-I/II (2008) 2E, p.14

[6] OECD Report on the Application of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and 1997 recommendation on Combating Bribery in International Business Transactions, Phase 2, December 2007, in:

[7] Transparency Internatioanl Global Corruption barometer 2010 , in:

[8] European Commission, EU Progress Report for Turkey 2010, SEC(2010) 1327, Brussels,p.17

[9] European Commission, EU Progress Report for Turkey 2011, SEC (2011) 1201, Brussels,p.19



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2 thoughts on “Europeanization Decoupled? Fighting Corruption in Turkey

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