EU: Talks must be suspended if AK Party closed down

EU officials stepped up warnings that a possible closure of Turkey's ruling AK Party would have fatal implications on the country's bid to join the 27-nation club.

EU: Talks must be suspended if AK Party closed down
European Union officials yesterday stepped up warnings that a possible closure of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) would have fatal implications on the country's bid to join the 27-nation club.

The Constitutional Court agreed on Monday to hear a closure case against the AK Party on charges of it having become "a focal point for anti-secular activities." In an immediate reaction to the court's decision, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn repeated a strong warning that it exposed a "systemic error" in Turkey's Constitution, announcing that he would brief the EU Commission on the case on Wednesday.

His announcement that he would brief the full 27-member commission underlined the seriousness with which the case is seen in Brussels and the possible implications for Turkey's membership bid. Under the negotiating framework agreed upon in 2004, the commission can recommend suspending the accession negotiations in the event of a "serious and persistent breach in Turkey of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law." Rehn's warning that the accession negotiations might be at stake appeared to enjoy widespread backing from the European Parliament members on Tuesday. Speaking to Today's Zaman, some members even called for an immediate suspension of the talks if the AK Party is closed down because party closure is an "open assault" on democracy.

Jan Marinus Wiersma, vice president of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, said the AK Party's closure would automatically require suspension of the talks. German parliamentarian Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, said the negotiations must be halted immediately in the event of closure, while French parliamentarian Ari Vatanen said the EU "must and will" reply with a strong reaction.

According to Chatzimarkakis, the closure case is a step taken by Turkey's "deep state" against democracy and closure of the AK Party would be seen as a deep state victory scored against democracy. Noting that Turkey is the only democratic country in the Muslim world, the German parliamentarian said, "Turkey's Kemalists must adapt to the new circumstances of the 21st century."

He added: "No prosecutor in Europe can dare to file a closure case against such a party. In my country, Germany, no one can imagine such a case against the ruling party, which happens to have the word 'Christian' in its name."

Vatanen harshly criticized the closure case against AK Party and said the situation was reminiscent of South America in the 1970s and '80s, when political dictators excessively politicized the judiciary to use it for their own political goals. "Has the Constitutional Court lost its mind? These judges must know nothing about democracy. On issues like this, the judiciary can have nothing to say. The Turkish people have made their choice, and the judiciary should respect that," he said. "Those who support the case think they are fighting Islamic extremism. Is this how one should fight extremism? You would end up feeding extremism rather than fighting it if you ignore legal principles."

Wiersma said for his part that it would be impossible to maintain talks with Turkey if the AK Party was closed down and President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were banned from politics, as sought by the prosecutor. Under such circumstances, talks will "obviously be suspended," he said. "You cannot continue accession negotiations with a country whose government is removed like this. Who are we going to talk to? Who are we going to negotiate with?" he asked. He also said the judges would not be benefiting Turkey if they agree to close down AK Party.

'2008 a lost year'

Joost Lagendijk, co-chairman of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee, expressed disappointment over the fact that the Constitutional Court agreed to hear the closure case against the ruling party.

"I wasn't really surprised when I heard yesterday [Monday] there would be a case because, knowing the composition of the Constitutional Court, this was going to happen. I think it's very bad for Turkey in two ways. First, it's bad for Turkey's image abroad. I'm sure those people in Europe who are against Turkey's accession will be very happy because they'll have an extra argument to say why should we negotiate with a country whose governing party runs the risk of being closed down," Lagendijk, who was in İstanbul to participate an international conference on Turkey's accession process to the EU, told Today's Zaman.

"The second reason why I think it is bad is that as a consequence, during the coming six to nine months we won't see any new reforms. The government will be busy fighting with the opposition, so we won't see any reforms. Again that would make 2008 a lost year for reforms, as 2007 was. So again it's an extra argument for those who are against Turkey's accession for these reasons. Thus, I'm really worried about the consequences of the court case," Lagendijk added.

In Brussels, the European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, accused the Turkish judiciary of "acting as if it is the owner of the state," while noting that the closure case against the ruling party would have an impact on accession negotiations between Ankara and Brussels.

"First of all, I have no intention of interfering in the Turkish judiciary. The second point, I'm concerned over the fact that the case was accepted. It is surprising that the judiciary is acting as if it is the owner of the secular state," Oomen-Ruijten said. "How will the government be able to run the country from now on, this is the point which is worrying for me," she said, stressing that the court should have also considered this point before accepting the case.

"As for the negotiations with the EU, it is Turkey who will decide on the course of the case, not the EU. Under normal conditions, such a case should not have any official impact on negotiations. However, it will definitely have unofficial impact. Will the AK Party [expend] its energy in running Turkey, or in defending itself? This is my concern; will the judiciary govern the state in Turkey, or political parties who came to power via elections?"

European deputies Cem Özdemir and Emine Bozkurt, both ethnic Turks, agreed with Oomen-Ruijten, saying that the closure case would eventually have an impact on Turkey's negotiations with the EU since the EU side would have difficulty in finding proper counterparts to negotiate with.

"We haven't started to hold negotiations with either the armed forces or the judiciary. We can't continue the negotiations with the bureaucracy, either. If our counterparts are imprisoned or if they are banned from politics, then with whom will we hold negotiations?" Özdemir, who is foreign affairs coordinator of the Greens in the European Parliament, asked.

Bozkurt described the closure case as "ignorance of the conviction of 47 percent of the citizens of Turkey."


Today's Zaman
Last Mod: 02 Nisan 2008, 07:28
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