Rehn's warnings sound alarm bells for Turk EU bid

European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said he would report to the European Commission on the case on Wednesday, saying it showed a "systemic error" in Turkey's constitutional framework.

Rehn's warnings sound alarm bells for Turk EU bid
European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn voiced renewed concern on Monday after the Constitutional Court agreed to hear a case to shut down the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for alleged Islamist activities.

Rehn said he would report to the European Commission on the case on Wednesday, saying it showed a "systemic error" in Turkey's constitutional framework. "The prohibition or dissolution of political parties is a far-reaching measure which should be used with the utmost restraint," Rehn said in a statement, adding: "I do not see any such justification for this case."

On Saturday, Rehn made similar remarks, saying attempts to close the AK Party could jeopardize Ankara's EU entry talks. Experts say his remarks are a serious warning over the near future of Turkey's EU bid.

Rehn, speaking at a news conference on Saturday after EU foreign ministers met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan in Brdo, Slovenia, had said a great deal would be at stake for Turkey's EU aspirations when members of its Constitutional Court met to consider whether the case, accusing the AK Party of subverting the secular order, was admissible. The 11-member Constitutional Court said yesterday it had discussed the arguments and decided to hear the full case for dissolving the AK Party on grounds that it is trying to scrap secular principles enshrined in the country's Constitution.

The assertion by analysts who define Rehn's remarks as "serious" is to a large extent based on facts documented in papers signed by Turkey and the EU as well as international principles and rule of law to which both Turkey and the EU are party.

"In the case 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 on which the union is founded, the commission will, on its own initiative or on the request of one third of the member states, recommend the suspension of negotiations and propose the conditions for eventual resumption. The council will decide by qualified majority on such a recommendation, after having heard Turkey, whether to suspend the negotiations and on the conditions for their resumption. The member states will act in the Intergovernmental Conference in accordance with the council decision, without prejudice to the general requirement for unanimity in the Intergovernmental Conference. The European Parliament will be informed," reads the negotiating agreement signed by Turkey and the European Commission in October 2005.

Turkey began EU membership talks in 2005 but has made slow progress, partly because of the unresolved conflict over the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, but also due to deep misgivings in some EU member states, notably France and Austria. The irony is that the counterpart for the EU's warning of suspending talks is a political party that has long declared the EU membership process to be an "external anchor" for itself.

"There is an external anchor that we take as a basis, and we constantly update our knowledge of this anchor. Thus we have set EU standards as the criteria we want to reach for upgrading the quality of life of our people," Babacan had said ahead of the July 22 parliamentary elections last year, when his party was resoundingly re-elected.

Associate Professor Mensur Akgün, director of the foreign policy program at the İstanbul-based Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), summarized the kind of a picture he foresees if the AK Party is closed as "not so glittering."

"France, Austria and to a certain extent the Netherlands are already keeping a distance to the idea of Turkey's full entry into the bloc. If a common decision of the bloc concerning suspension of talks with Turkey is added to this situation, this will spell a serious blow to democratization efforts in Turkey. Making reforms in this case will definitely be more than difficult," Akgün told Today's Zaman on Monday.

"If the EU's intention is to make a contribution to a candidate country's democratization, then suspension of negotiations is not the right way to do so. Suspension of talks will unfortunately have the opposite effect," Akgün added.

According to an Ankara-based Western analyst, Rehn's remarks should not be interpreted as a "threat."

"The commission displayed that it is not blind to the ongoing political crisis in Turkey and indicated that it considers this crisis 'grave,'" another analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told Today's Zaman. "Rehn's remarks also indicated the need for pursuit of a way out of this crisis," the analyst added.

Foreign policy expert Semih İdiz, for his part, noted that those who support the AK Party's closure have suggested that political parties could also be banned in EU countries. İdiz, in his column in the daily Milliyet, added, however, that there are strict principles concerning prohibition of political parties. These principles are mostly ignored by those who favor the AK Party's closure, he said, referring to guidelines adopted in 2000 by the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters.

"Prohibition or enforced dissolution of political parties may only be justified in the case of parties which advocate the use of violence or use violence as a political means to overthrow the democratic constitutional order, thereby undermining the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The fact alone that a party advocates a peaceful change of the constitution should not be sufficient for its prohibition or dissolution. A political party as a whole can not be held responsible for the individual behavior of its members not authorized by the party within the framework of political/public and party activities," read the guidelines on the prohibition of political parties and analogous measures adopted by the European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission.

Wiersma: European Union process will be affected

Meanwhile, in a statement released after the Constitutional Court agreed to go ahead with the closure case against the AK Party, Jan Marinus Wiersma, vice president of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, expressed grave concern over the decision. He said the court's move "gives the impression of being politically motivated."

"We don't consider the new headscarf legislation to be proof that the AK Party is undermining the country's secular character, which is what the prosecutor is building his case on. That is a political issue that has to be debated in the Parliament and should not be taken out of the political arena," he said. Wiersma stressed that the AK Party has done more than any other party in Turkey's history to bring the country closer to Europe.

"These judges are not doing their country much of a service. This decision will have a paralyzing effect on the Turkish political scene, endangering the reform agenda and relations with the European Union," he said.

Today's Zaman
Last Mod: 02 Nisan 2008, 07:29
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