Sunday, June 29, 2008

More Trouble With Europe

Turkish relations with Europe have become further stressed and hope for its bid to eventually enter the EU further dimmed as a result of a special meeting held by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Turkey is a member of the Council and the party closure case has caused the Council to express serious concern for the democratic normalization of Turkey. The result of the meeting was a further condemnation of the closure case (AKP officials had requested last April for PACE to condemn closure—see April 19 post) and the threat of a renewed monitoring by the Council. Full-monitoring ceased in 2004 and paved the way for the European Commission's recommendation for the EU to initiate accession talks with Turkey. Since then, a special committee of PACE has continued to follow Turkish political development in a phrase of "post-monitoring," which committee member Luc Van den Brande pointedly stated has continued as a result of Turkey's unwillingness to adopt European political and human rights norms. PACE called the urgent meeting on May 29.

Although EU relations are already imperiled, the PACE consensus, coming from outside the EU, will strengthen European condemnation and the and the hand of EU politicians in the Sarkozy camp who are opposed to Turkish membership. The PACE report approved Thursday strongly warned Turkey of the political risks in closing AKP, recognized the utility of the Venice criteria for party closure and condemned the closure of political parties for violations of secularism, urged PACE to consider re-imposition of monitoring of Turkish democratic and human rights practices, and significantly, demanded Turkey to treat the recent political crisis as an opportunity to move forward with a civilian constitution.

As does the EU, PACE walks the difficult diplomatic line of not provoking too strong a retaliatory condemnation of PACE, which would rally public support for the Euroskeptics, while at the same time fulfilling its need to address the closure case as a serious concern that will imperil EU-Turkey relations. The PACE decision is likely to heighten tensions between Europhiles and Euroskeptics within Turkey and might well complicate AKP's relations with Europe. CHP and MHP officials have already condemned the PACE meeting as unwanted interference and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was conspicuously absent. Bababcan cited his necessary attendance at the regular monthly meeting of the National Security Council, but Babacan's decision not to attend is likely motivated by AKP's attempts to distance itself from European criticism and risk being accused of fomenting outside criticism, a definite taboo.

Apart from the report, PACE also passed a report on Friday urging Turkey to better conditions on the Greek islands of Gökçeada and Bozcaada, in so doing restoring Greek exiles' property rights and allowing for the construction of a school. PACE members also signed a motion for a resolution condemning the conviction of Ragıp Zarakolu and urging the Turkish government to undertake more comprehensive reform of Article 301. For some Turks, Friday's moves will add insult to injury.

The PACE decision reflects growing polarization between Europe and nationalist politicians in Turkey, and with reform stalled (see Jan. 19 post), it is unlikely that the rhetoric is to stop until the closure case has come to an end. In light of the PACE decision, Joost Lagendijk, Co-chair the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, reaffirmed the grave danger closing AKP will have on future accession negotiations. Still, the EU is unlikely to formally suspend accession talks—once suspended, talks are difficult to recommence—in the face of AKP's closure and thereby give up critical diplomatic leverage.

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