Amidst German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey this week, Spiegel Online published a lengthy interview yesterday with Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan .
The interview touched on most of the familiar subjects – including Iran’s nuclear program, the Armenian genocide resolution controversy, and Turkey’s ongoing negotiations to join the European Union.
The interview failed, however, to address the status of Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) constitutional reform proposal that is scheduled to be presented to Parliament today.
This is not terribly surprising given Turkey’s centrality to Europe’s foreign policy challenges in the Middle East, but the unfolding constitutional controversy is likely to become a key issue between Brussels and Ankara in the coming months with implications for Turkey’s EU membership bid.
Reforming Turkey’s anachronistic 1982 constitution – which was written in the aftermath of a military coup – is a key prerequisite for Turkey’s admission to the European Union. Europe is concerned that Turkey’s powerful judiciary and military be brought under civilian control, and with extending certain liberal freedoms to Turkish citizens.
As Gareth Jenkins explains, the problem is that the AKP proposal contains only some of the EU requirements, and includes several items that have not been demanded by Europe, but are meant to consolidate the party’s power.
Thus far, key European Union officials have supported the proposal, with the caveat that they would like to see negotiation and input from Turkey’s opposition parties, which are closely aligned with the military and the judiciary and are steadfastly opposed to the proposal.
It is likely that the opposition will refuse to support the constitutional reforms and that Prime Minister Erdogan and his party will be compelled to put their proposal to a popular referendum.
In that case, Europe will be put in a very difficult position. On the one hand, it supports constitutional reform in principle and some elements of the AKP proposal in practice. On the other hand, unilateral, incremental amendments to Turkey’s constitution are far from ideal from the European perspective.
If this scenario plays out, the seemingly mundane issue of Turkish constitutional reform may become a very hot topic in Brussels and a defining moment for Turkey’s European Union candidacy.
— Ben Katcher