(Photo Credit: Argenberg’s Photostream)
While here in Istanbul for a series of meetings with foreign policy practitioners and analysts, I have been struck by the nearly complete absence of Turkey’s European Union negotiations from my discussions.
As one prominent Turkish political commentator explained to me, Turkey’s relations with Europe are in a coma. Neither side wants to pull the plug, but at the same time neither is willing to invest the energy to resuscitate Turkey’s membership negotiations.
In this context, it is interesting that the European Union is set to announce today that it supports the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party’s controversial constitutional reform amendments, which were passed by Turkey’s Parliament last week and are set to go to a referendum.
The constitutional reform debate is the latest manifestation of the defining divide in Turkish politics between the conservative, Islamic-oriented AKP government and the staunchly secular, Kemalist state led by the military, judiciary and bureaucracy.
The reforms would enhance the power of the government at the expense of the state by giving the government greater power to appoint justices to Turkey’s high court and requiring that military officers accused of civilian crimes be tried in civilian courts. A third controversial proposal that would have made it more difficult for the judiciary to close political parties fell just short of passing.
As I predicted in March, the constitutional reforms place the European Union in a bind. The EU has called for Turkey to adopt a new constitution for years, but the reform proposal is neither as comprehensive nor as liberal Europe would like. The process itself is problematic as well because all three opposition parties opposed the reforms, which they perceive to be a power grab in disguise.
Europe’s decision to support the reforms likely reflects a determination that they are better than nothing and that the accession process is best served by supporting the AKP government’s initiative in spite of the reforms’ shortcomings. Europe’s position is understandable, but may result in a backlash among Turkish nationalists. It also might make it more difficult for Europe to push for additional reforms to Turkey’s constitution in the future.
For an excellent treatment of the implications of Turkey’s constitutional reform proposal for its relations with the EU, read this Brookings Institution paper by Emiliano Alessandri and Omer Taspinar.
Turkey watchers may also be interested in the breaking news that the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party (CHP), Deniz Baykal has resigned in the midst of a sex scandal.
— Ben Katcher