Summary: Turkey and Austria - One Month before the Constitutional Referendum

of the panel discussion
held on Wednesday, 15 March 2017, 6.00 – 7.30 p.m.
at the IIP, Vienna


„Turkey and Austria – One month before the Constitutional Referendum“


Julien Pinaudeau

edited by

Stephanie Fenkart

The relationship between Turkey and Austria has not been as tense as today for a long time. Whereas the long common history of these two nations has forged a collective memory, diplomatic relations are challenged by current events, especially the Turkish constitutional referendum, which will be held on Sunday, 16 April 2017. 

In addition to Turkey's significant role as a geopolitical platform for the Middle-East conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the country appears to be a key actor for a successful management of “the migration crisis” and an important partner for Austria and the EU.

With a population of nearly 80 million inhabitants, Turkey is a huge and significant trade partner as well. The upcoming constitutional referendum may represent a good indicator for the future developments of Turkey and its foreign relations.

In which direction will Turkey evolve and how can Austria manage such a development? Will Turkey be able to assume an important role in the region as a stabilizing force for the European and Austrian foreign policy? To which extent economic relations can contribute to it? What is the influence of civil society in both countries?

The panel discussion will try to tackle such topics and other aspects of the complex relationship between Turkey and Austria.



Hannes SWOBODA                       President of the IIP, Vice-President of the ÖTZ (Vienna)


Georg KARABCZEK                     Delegate of the Austrian Economic Chamber (Istanbul)

XXX                                                Journalist, Politician CHP (Istanbul)

Duygu ÖZKAN                              Journalist, Austrian newspaper, „Die Presse“, (Vienna)



Hannes SWOBODA (President of the IIP, Vice-President of the ÖTZ, Vienna) opens the panel discussion by stressing the significance of this topic for Europe, especially if we consider national or international newspapers in which strong words, irritations and misunderstandings dominate. The relationship between Turkey and Austria should be analysed without sensationalism or passion in order to understand both countries and societies better.


Georg KARABCZEK (Delegate of the Austrian Economic Chamber, Istanbul) embodies the business community and refuses to take part in the current political and verbal escalation between Austria and Turkey. The panellist describes a stable situation for foreign entrepreneurs who are always welcomed and who maintain good relations with Turkish authorities. He insists on the fact that “without business, there will be no politics”. Moreover, we should not neglect the economic dimension of the Turkish-Austrian relationship. With nearly 80 million inhabitants, Turkey represents an important market for Austrian entrepreneurs. Mr Karabczek quotes an approximate turnover of 4 billion Euros per year and investments of 4,5 billion Euros. There is no boycott of Austrian goods at all and Austria remains one of the most preferred destinations for Turkish tourists. Although the panelist underlines several structural problems such as a negative trade balance, he admits the Turkish economy is in a rather good state. One month before the constitutional referendum, the situation is relatively stable and Turkish entrepreneurs are waiting for the outcome in order to continue their business as usual, far from political tensions.

Traditionally, Austria is positively considered among Turkish public opinion, which has its roots in the neutral and friendly relationship of Austria and Turkey. Nevertheless, new comments in Turkish media severely criticize the attitude of two European Member States: the Netherlands and Austria. Recent events related to the organization of Pro-Erdogan or pro AKP- events in several European countries raised tensions, which were easily manipulated within Turkish media. For example, several national newspapers do not hesitate to point out directly the responsibility of the European Union. This fact allows us to evoke the complex and unstable relationship between Ankara and Brussels. “The Erdogan phenomenon” is strongly related to the possibility for Turkey to become a member of the European Union. If the country has taken advantage of the relationship with the EU in terms of economy and trade, there is obviously a lack of improvement when we think about political or societal evolutions.

XXX XXX (politician (CHP), author, journalist): due to the ongoing harassments of journalists and opoositional politicians, the next panelists asked to stay anonymous:

Just after its foundation, the AKP clearly won the elections of 2002 with 35% and became the ruling party. This success was related to the country's satisfactory economic results and the charisma of the leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, despite strong criticism concerning the AKP´s commitment to several secular principles enshrined in the Turkish constitution. Thirteen years later, the ruling party lost the majority, while the HDP made a significant progress with 10% of the votes due to a strong support of the “White Turks”, a neologism referring to urban elites in Turkey. Since 2008, the country is deeply divided between Republicans, supporting the CHP and the ruling party AKP. This bipolarisation has created two societies which do not communicate together anymore. In Istanbul, these two societies live in different districts and do not mix. Over time, social differences converged with religious and political tensions.

The constitutional referendum of April 2016 is a powerful indicator of the many tensions among the Turkish society and especially the geographical and political opposition between Western Turkey and Anatolia. In the light of such a complex situation, it seems very difficult to make assumptions about the results, although it looks like the pro-Erdogan fraction will be successful.                                         

Duygu ÖZKAN (Journalist, Austrian newspaper, „Die Presse “, Vienna) starts her presentation by describing the media landscape in Turkey. In particular, she reports that many journalists have been arrested and a growing number of publications have great difficulties because of the current governmental policy. The media sector is significant considering that most of the readers are deeply interested in politics and often politically involved. Furthermore, the journalist evokes the Coup d´Etat attempt of July 2016 and its consequences for the freedom of media in Turkey. Prior to July 2016, newspapers have rarely been shut down and even if they have had financial difficulties, it was possible to work and to publish a newspaper or a magazine. After July 2016, the Turkish government has decided to put pressure on every single publication and as a result nearly 120 journalists have been imprisoned and a great number of newspapers have been closed. Nevertheless, it is still possible to adopt a critical approach towards Erdogan and the government, even if there is a serious risk involved.

After having discussed the print media, the journalist refers to the situation of television in Turkey, which has a great influence over the population. TV stations have two options: to stay under the ruling party’s control or to close. The panellist insists on the fact that only one opposition channel remains. Most of the programs consistently evoke the upcoming constitutional referendum. Such a situation must be put in the context of the beginning of accession negotiations with the European Union in 2005. At that time, the media landscape was rather prosperous and free: new publications were numerous and were not threatened by any kind of censorship. This “golden age” was a great surprise, especially for the journalists who are in prison at the moment and this absurd development offers a sound picture of what Turkey has been experiencing under the AKP majority.


For a better understandin:

Major political parties in Turkey


Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, 2001)- Justice and Development Party - Neo-Ottomanism, Formerly Conservative democracy, centre-right

Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, 1923)- Republican People's Party - Social democracy, Kemalism, centre-left

Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, 1948) - Nationalist Movement Party - Turkish nationalism, Pan-Turkism, far-right

Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, 2012) - Peoples' Democratic Party - Democratic Socialism, Radical Democracy, pro-minority, left-wing