Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sticks and Carrots

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn arrived in Turkey on Wednesday amidst much anticipation as to what exactly he was to say and do here. Both EU politicians stuck close to their line that closing down political parties is not in line with acceptable European political practice, but were careful not to dwell on the issue. Before their coming, Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, issued a stern warning in view of the closure case.
“I hope the Supreme [Constitutional] Court is sensible in its ruling because it would be a hard blow for Turkey and a blow for Turkey's relations with us in Europe . . . . The consequences could be very grave.”
Apart from the warning were EU promises that two more chapters are expected to be opened for negotiation of the acquis. The statement is no doubt intended as an award for AKP's promise to pursue further reform, in particular its decision to amend Article 301. It will is also valuable political capital much needed for AKP given the level of liberal and Euro-phile disenchantment with the party at the moment.

Relations between the EU and opposition parties were not so conciliatory. Expressing offense at EU meddling in what CHP and other opposition parties contend are Turkey's domestic political issues, CHP leader Deniz Baykal threatened to walk out of Barroso's address to Parliament should President Barroso mention the closure case. In his address to Parliament, Barroso did not address the issue head-on, but has repeatedly asserted that the EU does indeed have a serious stake in the issue and is perfectly within its right to issue commentary as a result of Turkey's pending EU application. Notably, Barroso also questioned Baykal as to CHP's support of the accession process and told him that EU politicians were unsure of CHP's support for Turkey's entry into the EU. Baykal responded that CHP had serious reservations about some measures involved in the accession process and shifted the burden to Barroso by arguing that support for the EU would be greater if CHP could be assured that the EU Commission was serious about Turkey's eventual entry. More evidence of why AKP seems to enjoy so much EU favor. . .

To this effect, see Ihsan Dagı's column (excerpt):
Looking at the political actors in Turkey, the Europeans are struck by the fact that there are not many with which to work. Comparing the AK Party and the CHP, the Europeans realize that the so-called pro-Islamic AK Party is more willing to cooperate with the EU than the so-called Kemalist social democratic CHP.

It is pretty obvious for the Europeans that despite slowing down on reforms, the AK Party is still the only political party committed to the idea of integration with the EU and prepared to make the necessary political reforms. Bringing Turkey to accession negotiations, the AK Party's performance between 2002 and 2005 was considered impressive by EU circles.

It must be noted that amid criticism of slowing down on reforms the AK Party cleared another hurdle before the closure case with a new foundations law improving the state of foundations held by non-Muslim citizens of Turkey. Also recall that this law was vetoed by the Kemalist former president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. During the proceedings in Parliament the reformed law was strongly opposed by the CHP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on the grounds that the AK Party was giving in to foreign pressure. The EU, in asking for such a reform, must have viewed these debates as an indication of pro and anti-reform groups in Turkey.

Moreover it is also known that the AK Party's commitment to EU membership is not confined to its leadership but also involves its grassroots. The latest opinion poll conducted by Pollmark, for instance, found support for EU membership at 59 percent. But the support for the EU among AK Party voters exceeds the average at 68 percent. So for the sustainability of the membership process the AK Party grassroots presents a better picture.

The EU values a dialogue between civilizations, particularly between the West and Islam, and is aware that this cannot be carried out by radical secularists. A "democratic secularism," as Barroso put it, is required to be a bridge between the two sides. It seems the AK Party is better equipped to play such a role than the CHP, which appears to sacrifice democracy for "militant secularism."

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