The European Union has said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) will remain on its list of terror organizations despite yesterday's ruling by an EU court to overturn a decision to place the PKK on the EU's terrorist list.
The Court of First Instance (CFI), the EU's second-highest court, ruled yesterday against the way the PKK was put on the bloc's list of groups whose funds must be frozen to help fight terrorism in 2002. The CFI said the EU had not properly justified its decision at the time.
In its decision, the court said that decisions made by EU governments in 2002 and 2004 to blacklist certain groups and freeze their assets were illegal under EU law. It is the latest of several court decisions overturning similar EU decisions, on the grounds that the groups added to the terror list were not properly informed of the decision to blacklist them or given a right to appeal the decision.
Officials from the Council of Europe stress that the court decision refers to the procedural mistakes of 2002, noting that these have been remedied and that the PKK will remain on the list regardless of the court decision. It is the Council of Europe that renews the terror list twice a year and decides which organizations should be included.
To prevent confusion stemming from the European court's verdict, the EU Commission said the PKK will remain listed as a terror organization. Krisztina Nagy, the spokeswoman for Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, said the decision of the court did not affect the current list.
"The EU continues to consider PKK-Kongra/Gel to be a terrorist organization, and this ruling does not change the composition of the list. The ruling of the European Court of First Instance only refers to decisions dating from 2002 and 2004 that failed to meet some requirements of a purely legal nature. The council has since improved its listing procedures, taking into account the views of the court in similar cases in the past, and made them more fair and transparent. Also, the EU list is reviewed every six months by the council and, following the latest revision made in December 2007, the PKK and KONGRA/GEL remain on the list. Once again, this judgment does not affect the decision currently in force."
Meanwhile, sources from the Luxembourg-based court told Today's Zaman that the PKK is not the first terror organization to have been excluded from the list, citing the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq of Iran as an example. On Dec. 12, 2006 the court decided that the group should be taken off the list on the basis of procedural defects. Despite the court's decision, the council refused to do so but changed its rules in a bid to create a firmer legal framework. Mujahadeen-e-Khalq has again appealed the council decision to keep the organization on the list and the case is still pending.
Court sources argue that the council has failed to provide adequate information to individuals and organizations that are on the list. EU legislation maintains that individuals and organizations can be on the terror list if a national decision has been made, i.e., a decision by a member country.
A national decision could be a court verdict or a government decision or a decision by a competent authority.
There are two similar cases pending in the court. Philippine citizen Jose Maria Sison, leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the Netherlands-based al-Aqsa organization have sued the council, demanding they be excluded from the list.
Council sources say that the court made its decision on the PKK because of procedural problems stemming from 2002, adding that these issues have been addressed since March 2007. Stating that there is now a new regime, a source said, "In the wake of the court decision on Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, we created a new system by which we inform those people and organizations as to why they are on the list and give them the opportunity to challenge the decision. For us, there is no problem at all with keeping the PKK on the terror list."
According to sources, the court was obliged to give its verdict to close the case but in substance nothing will change, as those issues have already been solved. The council has taken two new decisions regarding the terror list back in December 2007 and the PKK remains on the list.
The PKK has been on the list since May 2002. It is also on the terror lists of both the US and NATO.
Facts and sentiments
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declined to comment on the ruling concerning the PKK yesterday when he was reminded of the issue by reporters during his official visit to the Swedish capital of Stockholm.
"The information received is not clear. After receiving clear information, necessary statements will be made," Erdoğan was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.
The Turkish government's uneasiness concerning the EU's stance vis-à-vis terrorism is not a secret, with both Erdoğan and members of the cabinet complaining from time to time of an absence of a firm will by the EU against activities of terrorist organizations in certain member countries.
Last month, during a meeting with ambassadors of EU countries in Ankara, Erdoğan harshly criticized the member states for assuming what he termed a non-principled and insincere approach towards the issue of terrorism, accusing certain EU members of overlooking terrorists' activities in their countries by using the independence of the judiciary as an excuse.
Analysts say that although Thursday's ruling is more of a technical ruling, it is still likely to nourish existing skepticism among Turkish public union concerning the firmness of the 27-member bloc's stance against terrorism.
"It is entirely a technical ruling and one has to take the union's complex structure into consideration while assessing this ruling. However, this doesn't change the fact that the court, in its announcement, seems to have ignored how sensitively the issue is regarded in Turkey. Eventually, this ruling and a purposeful misinterpretation of this ruling by the anti-EU camp and mainstream media in Turkey will strengthen the anti-EU camp," Sedat Laçiner, head of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (ISRO/ USAK), told Today's Zaman.
"Instead of overturning the inclusion of the PKK, the court might have asked for proper and sufficient documents to be introduced; this is a typical example of an action which goes beyond its purpose," he added. Nonetheless, Laçiner noted that previous court decisions in certain member countries -- such as a recent decision by a Belgian court to acquit members of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US -- have already helped the anti-EU camp in Turkey.
Faruk Loğoğlu, a former Turkish ambassador to the US, agreed with Laçiner on the fact that the verdict is more of a technical ruling. "Yet, looking from Turkey, this ruling's timing is not appropriate," Loğoğlu, now head of the Ankara based-Eurasia Strategic Research Center (ASAM), told Today's Zaman.
"The ruling is not appropriate in regard to the messages it gives and it will raise anti-EU sentiments among the Turkish public, although it does not mean that the PKK will be dropped from the EU's list of terrorist organizations," Loğoğlu said.
Europe's unwillingness to fight terrorism
PKK decision shows Europe's unwillingness to fight terrorism, says Çiçek
Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek said on Thursday that a European Union court ruling, also issued yesterday, against the inclusion of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on a list of groups whose funds must be frozen in an effort to combat terrorism proves Europe is neither sincere nor determined in its fight against terror.
Çiçek said Europe faced a dilemma in battling acts of terrorism and terrorist organizations. "Terrorist organizations have started to use Europe's judicial organs. What is the PKK if not a terrorist organization -- a humanitarian aid group? Europe really needs to weigh its own conscience in this matter," Çiçek told Today's Zaman in an interview. "A large number of countries currently see terrorism as part of their own [foreign] policy and use it. This is something that damages the fight against terrorism."
Recalling Belgian court decisions to not extradite terrorists of an extreme-left Turkish group, Çiçek said the tolerance shown by European courts toward terrorist groups was the main reason these organizations managed to exploit the European judiciary. "Then they say, 'Our judiciary is independent; we can't intervene.' They are experiencing a conflict in the fight against terror," Çiçek said.
Çiçek said there was currently no mechanism ensuring the extradition of terrorist group members in Europe. "Even a red bulletin doesn't work. They release terrorist groups without adequate investigation. They should realize that these terrorists will turn their guns on them at some point."