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Exploring Populism in Erdogan’s Discourse on Turkey–European Union Relations


Many political leaders have adopted populist themes in their foreign policy discourses, motivated by, for example, revisionism, domestic mobilisation, and personalisation of foreign policy. Since the failed coup attempt in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become a prime example of this trend. This article analyses Turkey’s relationship with the European Union (EU) by deciphering populist themes in his discourses. The article’s method, thematic discourse analysis, examines speeches and statements from multiple data sources using a deductive codebook. According to the study’s qualitative and quantitative in-depth analysis people-centrism, partnership diversification, general will, positive partisanship, and personalisation emerge as distinct populist themes in Erdogan’s speeches. Erdogan uses populism to project the image of strong/charismatic leadership as a genuine representation of the will of oppressed people(s). In his discourses, special weight is given to people-centrism, and it is supported by the themes of general will and personalisation.


European Union, Turkey, Populism, Discourse, Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Research Article (PDF)

Supplementary File(s)

Appendices (PDF)

Author Biography

Onder Canveren

Onder Canveren is a research assistant (Ph.D.) at the Department of International Relations, the Faculty of Business, Dokuz Eylül University. He was a post-doctoral researcher at the Cologne Center for Comparative Politics, the University of Cologne, and his research stay was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He was also a visiting scholar at Cairo University and the University of Belgrade. His research focuses on European Studies, the Western Balkans, Turkey and identity politics. His publications have appeared in the Romanian Journal of Political Science and the Journal of Balkan Research Institute. 

André Kaiser

André Kaiser is Professor of Comparative Politics at the Cologne Center for Comparative Politics, the University of Cologne.  His research focuses on comparative political institutions in democracies, hybrid regimes and autocracies; federalism, decentralization and multilevel governance; and party systems. His publications have appeared in, among other venues, Third World Quarterly, the American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Political Studies and the European Journal of Political Research.