Friday, March 11, 2011

"Progress This Is Not," Says EU Parliament

The European Parliament voted to approve its resolution on Turkey's progress toward accession this week. The resolution follows up on the annual progress report the European Commission issued in November, which documents how far Turkey has come over the past year in meeting EU requirements for membership (the 36 negotiating chapters of what is known as the EU acquis communitaire.

The resolution passed Wednesday is not an extraordinary measure, but an action taken by the Parliament every year that allows European MPs to comment on the progress report. The Parliament is routinely more stark in its criticisms than the progress report, and of course, is much more influenced by European politics -- in this case, European opposition to Turkish membership in some countries -- than the progress reports issued by the Commission.

The resolution this year was particularly strong, drawing attention to the recent arrests of journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Sener, whose case have drawn considerable international controversy and domestic criticism. The Parliament also noted concern with long arrest periods, an issue that has also attracted more attention in the Turkish press and among human rights groups. Parliamentarians also requested that Turkey lower its current 10% threshold, something the AKP has been reluctant to do since it would jeopardize the ruling party's ability to attain a parliamentary majority and thus more easily pass a new constitution. The whole resolution can be read here.

Prime Minister Erdogan responded strongly, arguing today that if Europeans do not want Turkey in the EU, they should just be honest about it. Instead of addressing the criticisms head-on and noting shortcomings on Turkey's part, the prime minister instead leveled his criticisms at European parliamentarians opposing Turkish membership. The deflection is a not at all a new tactic by the AKP, but the players have changed a bit.

Contrary to the nationalist era of CHP when the party was led by staunch Kemalist stalwart Deniz Baykal, Kemal Kilicdaroglu's CHP -- "the new CHP" as party officials are calling it -- has taken a more pro-European posture. CHP's office in Brussels, a development of the past two years, issued a statement criticizing the AKP for Turkey's stalled accession process and urging the government to take needed reforms. From Hurriyet Daily News:
“Despite the fact that the European Parliament and other EU institutions cannot analyze Turkey’s situation correctly, taking into consideration the whole of events and the cause-effect relationship, the scene painted by Brussels on the situation today is saddening,” Kader Sevinç, the Brussels representative of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview.

Sevinç sent a written note to CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu briefing him about the content of the report.

“Unfortunately, the CHP’s reservations about the government-led constitutional amendments proved right: Those responsible for the Sept. 12 [1980] military coup cannot be tried, judge and prosecutor appointments have been politicized, authoritarian tendencies have grown stronger, pressure on the media has increased, freedoms are being limited and social polarization is deepening,” Sevinç told the Daily News.

“We see in the report that the importance of these issues is becoming better understood by the European Parliament, which is directly elected by the EU public,” she said.

The Brussels chief criticized the AKP for not doing enough to open the three EU accession-negotiation chapters – those on competition, social policy and public procurement – that carry no political baggage.

“The government remains unwilling to open the social policy and competition chapters because there is a need for reforms on state aid, the unregistered economy, gender equality at work and child labor,” said Sevinç.

. . . .

Sevinç said the CHP was closely following Turkey’s accession process and had established a “shadow CHP team monitoring EU negotiations.” The team, led by Sevinç, is following each and every negotiating chapter in the Turkish-EU talks and briefing Kılıçdaroğlu about the progress made.
Whereas before the CHP would stay quiet in face of the EU criticism, the party is now using such opportunities in its opposition politics against the AKP. The resolution did recognize the constitutional referendum as a qualified step toward accession, but yes, the shortcomings are duly noted and Sevinc is astute in arguing that the new constitution has not brought about a more liberal Turkey.

UPDATE I (3/15) -- EU Rapportuer on Turkey Ria Oomen Ruijten defends the resolution here, calling the report critical but balanced. Meanwhile, worth a considered reading is Turkey watcher Aengus Collins' thoughtfully sober blog post on the AKP's recent majoritarian turn, something I have written about here extensively. An excerpt:
In 2002, however, the AKP was a new political force which risked a backlash from Turkey’s establishment. It went out of its way to counter concerns about its religious roots by pushing forward with political and economic reforms. But that was then. Today, the AKP no longer needs to burnish its European credentials as a means of forestalling a backlash from the establishment, because in the meantime it has consolidated its own position as Turkey’s new establishment. It is not unrivalled in this role, but it is clearly dominant. Both in successive electoral contests and in murkier episodes such as the failed judicial attempt to close the party in 2008 or the conduct of the Ergenekon and similar cases, the AKP has repeatedly secured the upper hand over those who would challenge it.

Moreover, the AKP has managed to do all of this in the name of democratisation. With Machiavellian aplomb, the party has turned democracy’s weak roots in Turkey to its advantage by loudly defining the concept on terms that work in its favour. In essence, this amounts to a crude majoritarianism which holds that an elected leader can and should do as he sees fit. The stronger his mandate, the less tolerable are constraints of any sort on his power, whether these stem from the military, the judiciary, the media, international organisations, or anywhere else. As the Financial Times noted in a recent editorial, the AKP government’s executive powers are now “increasingly untrammelled.”

It is against this backdrop that Turkey will head to the polls in three months’ time. Testing times lie ahead.

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