Fazila Mat on Studying Migration and Issues of Democracy in Italy and Turkey by the EUCAnet team

Fazıla Mat is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Victoria in the faculty of Political Science under the supervision of Dr. Oliver Schmidtke.

Turkey has been in the application process to become a Member State of the European Union for over 30 years and the fact that it has not yet been accepted has caused strife within the political leadership of Turkey. While democracy was not always the major barrier to Turkey’s accession, it has been added to the list of reservations from the EU. Accession at this point does not look hopeful. However, Turkey has played an essential role through the ‘migration crisis’ in Europe, a fact that allows Turkey to gain some reputation and leverage. Fazila compares the situations of Italy and Turkey, both of which were at the front-lines of the migration crisis but hold very different positions in relation to the EU.

What attracted you to the field of European Studies/ fascinated you about the EU?  

My interest in the European studies has firstly derived from the opportunity of living and observing the transformations taking place in two different countries: Italy and Turkey. Both the countries – the former as one of the founding states of the EC and the latter in a bid to become an EU member state for over 30 years – though in different ways, exemplify the dynamic nature of the EU and the European integration. This dynamic nature constitutes a fascinating subject to explore. More recently I have become particularly interested in the political transformations that have taken place in Turkey over the last twenty years with respect to its relationship with Europe and the European Union. Turkey’s EU accession process has often been considered as a fundamental agent of democratisation for the country, which, nevertheless, ended up going in the opposite direction for a number of reasons. So, trying to understand what went wrong and how is a very attractive subject to me. The refugee issue has also become an important link connecting Turkey and the European Union. As the EU policymakers decided to externalise migration management, Ankara took on a key role both as a gatekeeper to Europe and as a regulator of mass migration to European countries. Italy has also been on the frontlines of Europe’s so-called refugee crisis. Considered from a comparative perspective, these developments present some very important challenges faced by European integration, along with different ways of dealing with them by a multifaceted EU.

What is the most important issue to be addressed in your research? 

I am particularly interested in studying the deviance of Turkey from democracy and the influence of its relationship with the EU in this process. I think that populism has had an important role in this picture. Indeed, populism has emerged as one of the distinctive features of contemporary politics in several countries in the world, including some with well-established liberal democratic traditions. Turkey is no exception to this trend. However, Turkey’s authoritarian turn and relationship with the EU seem to have been affected not only by its domestic political changes, but also by the political changes occurring within the EU. For instance, economic and financial turbulence of the last decade and the recent crisis of European Union (EU) migration policies have given rise to nationalism, populism and a nation-first agenda while shaking the very foundation of European integration. The debates on migration and refugees have had a considerable impact in shaping populist tendencies in Europe. But the way in which the EU has handled the refugee crisis has elicited widespread criticism in Turkey, where the government adopted an “open door” policy toward the Syrian refugees. The Turkish government has used the refugee issue to generate a nationalistic critique and build domestic popular support, claiming Turkey’s moral superiority over the EU in a number of occasions. Similar considerations bring me to focus on the interplay between Turkey and the EU and its populist repercussions in my research.

Fazıla Mat is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Victoria in the faculty of Political Science under the supervision of Dr. Oliver Schmidtke. Fazıla holds an MA degree in Humanities from the University of Milan and she has worked for 12 years as a journalist and commentator for Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) and other Italian and Swiss media covering Turkish politics, EU-Turkey relations, migration, civil society and media issues. For OBCT she has also carried out research on the EU-Turkey refugee deal (2017), media freedom in Turkey (2014 and 2018) and academic freedom in Turkey (2018). Her research interests include populism, migration and EU-Turkey relations.