The administration has decided to revive Turkey's stalled EU membership process -- which began to slow with the elections in 2007 and subsequent developments -- with new reform laws this spring. The government will first amend the controversial Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code (TCK). The process will then move on to discussions over the new civilian draft constitution.
A large group of intellectuals, artists, academics and journalists urged the government to take immediate action toward reform, which is required by Turkey's EU bid, in a declaration released last week. The group demanded swift implementation of political reforms, the removal of the obstacles before freedom of speech and the abolition of Article 301. Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairman Nihat Ergün acknowledged that demands voiced in the declaration were reasonable, in an interview with Today's Zaman.
Noting that the Foundations Law, which has long been considered as an important step forward in the EU process, was adopted by Parliament last week, Ergün recalled that the passage of the bill took as long as it did because of bitter opposition by other parties. "Nobody can say the EU train has stopped. We have recently passed the Foundations Law. Our intellectuals are right in their declaration, but they should also consider Parliament's work schedule and the government's vision and plans. Are they unable to appreciate the difficulty of adopting the Foundations Law? The process will be revived in spring. Our prime minister stressed our decisiveness at [his recent meeting] with ambassadors from EU countries."
Ergün noted that they would refer a draft amendment to Article 301 to Parliament next week.
He recalled that the authorities were working on the final touches on the article, under which a number of writers, intellectuals and journalists have been prosecuted.
Ergün said that following amendments to Article 301, Parliament will consider a 76-article social security reform bill. Ergün also noted that the bill on the Court of Accounts, which had been submitted to the plenary session in the previous legislative term, was ready for further discussion. He said the proposed bill, which would make it possible for the Court of Accounts to audit military expenditures, would be referred to Parliament right after the social security reform. Ergün added that the Turkish Commercial Code will also be discussed by Parliament.
The new draft constitution will be opened for further discussions in two weeks' time. The draft, which will be made available to the public for review by political parties, civil society organizations and universities, will be referred to Parliament in two months. Ergün, who said the AK Party has completed its preparations on the draft constitution, noted that they have come to the final stage before opening of the draft to discussion.
Recalling that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had assured the EU ambassadors that the draft would be referred to Parliament as quickly as possible, Ergün further said: "Now it is time to discuss the new constitution. Unfortunately, the draft constitution had been discussed with particular reference to the headscarf issue. The controversy was taken care of via the amendments to articles 10 and 42 of the [current] constitution. … We hope the Constitutional Court will uphold the recent amendments."
The AK Party plans to ensure the passage of the new constitution by the end of 2008. But in the event of prolonged discussions, party executives have said it may not be passed until early 2009. For this reason, the party plans to first take care of the priorities in regards to Turkey's EU bid to make sure that Parliament reviews the new draft constitution in October 2008. The AK Party is also considering introducing the ombudsman bill, a legal reform urged by the EU, after promulgation of the new constitution. Former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer had previously vetoed the ombudsman bill on grounds that there was no word in the constitution matching the notion of an ombudsman. The government, which admits that the veto was based on plausible reasons, will thus wait for the adoption of the new constitution.
Last Mod: 04 Mart 2008, 11:03