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The European Union and Beyond

Discursive Europeanisation: Ideas, Entrepreneurs and Consensus in Turkish Water Policy

Environmental Policy
European Union
Domestic Politics
Policy Change
Burçin Demirbilek
University of Exeter
Burçin Demirbilek
University of Exeter
David Benson
University of Exeter
Oscar Fitch-Roy
University of Exeter

Despite declining EU accession incentives and growing popular ambivalence in perceptions of the EU, Turkey has paradoxically reversed reforms in some sectors (i.e. de-Europeanisation) while continuing to implement EU policy in others (i.e. Europeanisation), most notably the environmental sector. Theoretically, explaining continued Europeanisation of Turkish policies remains problematic using rational institutional theory, since it focuses on material incentives provided by the accession process, i.e. conditionality. However, few Europeanisation studies have considered the role of ideas embedded in discourse as facilitators of Turkish institutional change under declining conditionality. Drawing upon Schmidt’s notion of discursive institutionalism (DI), this paper examines how ‘cognitive’ and ‘normative’ ideas around water policy, provided by the EU, have informed the ‘coordinative discourse’ for Turkish policy actors in drafting a new national Water Law (WL). Theoretical propositions on DI are applied to qualitative data, primarily observations and semi-structured interviews conducted between 2017 and 2018 with 30 Turkish policy elites. Accordingly, our analysis shows how policy elites utilised one particular set of policy ideas, embodied in the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD), to develop consensus for legal change in the absence of reducing accession incentives. We show how normative ideas around the optimality of river basin management, a distinctively European approach, were employed by entrepreneurial actors to build a discursive consensus for legal innovation in Turkish water governance. The WFD was subsequently established as the basis of ‘cognitive’ guidelines for the draft WL. The political implications of the continuing relevance of positive elite perceptions of the EU and European policy ideas for a country with declining accession expectations among citizens are explored. Finally, the effectiveness of DI for explaining such de-facto Europeanisation in a context of wider de-Europeanisation are discussed.
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