Europe Will Back Turkey’s Constitutional Reform


(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


9 comments on “Europe Will Back Turkey’s Constitutional Reform

  1. Dan Kervick says:

    “… Harold Rhode, who says that on his last trip to Turkey his Turkish friends no longer wanted to talk about politics — and Turks always used to love talking about politics. Now they are afraid.”
    Maybe they are just afraid of talking politics with Harold Rhode, an extremist neoconservative ideologue and regime change specialist. Any loyal Turk would be well-advised to keep such nefarious figures at arm’s length, given that their trips to Turkey probably include efforts to foment sedition.
    FWIW, I also avoid talking politics these days with anyone except those inside a small circle of trust. The rest of the world has grown too crazy for my taste.


  2. Richard says:

    I made the unfortunate mistake of opening the comments section and shockingly came across the grossly ignorant comments of Nadine. I should know better by now.
    Nadine, tell your friend “expert” Rhode that he should change his friends. I spend a good deal of time in Turkey, having just returned from there last week. I had no trouble getting people engaged in conversations about politics. And they were not afraid.
    Better, Nadine, just go away and take your stupid remarks with you.


  3. nadine says:

    Dan, you have seem to have missed all the statements Erdogan has made in favor of his good buddies in Hamas, Iran and the Sudan. He’s sure Iran is not trying to build nukes. He’s sure Hamas are all innocent victims. He’s sure there’s no genocide in the Sudan because Muslims don’t commit genocide. That much is true I suppose, for when Muslims do commit genocide, it’s called “jihad” not “genocide.”
    The AKP is Islamizing Turkey step by step. They have pre-empted the Army, which since Attaturk has had the role of maintaining secular democracy in Turkey, with trumped up coup charges. They have closed down opposition newspapers. They have changed the Turkish constitution in their favor. While they haven’t outlawed alcohol yet, they just taxed it so heavily it now costs 5 to 8 times as much as it did before. They clearly have zero intentions of ever running a fair election where they could be voted out.
    If you haven’t heard objections from NATO, it’s only because the West is pretending not to notice. The NATO stuff has been there a long time (actually, so were the joint US/Israel/Turkey exercises which Erdogan canceled), and the AKP is perfectly willing to play both sides of the aisle…for the time being. But if NATO ever lifts a finger against Iran, watch Turkey be as unhelpful as it was with the Iraq war.
    Here’s a useful summary from Turkey expert Harold Rhode, who says that on his last trip to Turkey his Turkish friends no longer wanted to talk about politics — and Turks always used to love talking about politics. Now they are afraid:


  4. non-hater says:

    I mostly agree with WigWag’s analysis. I would add that to me, it never made a lot of sense for the EU to expand its borders all the way to the Middle East, let alone the Schengen Agreement area. And it made no sense to do much about it until Southeast Europe was fully incorporated.


  5. JohnH says:

    Poor Nadine, it somehow seems to have escaped her ilk that the whole world is not committed to constantly placating Israel and its regular temper tantrums. Some countries have a life of their own, not cowed by pint-sized Likud bullies.
    Makes you wonder if Israel will ever mature beyond behaving like a two year old.


  6. Dan Kervick says:

    “Turkey won’t join the EU because Turkey has already joined the Iranian axis: Turkey now does its military exercises with Syria, not Israel …”
    Oh please, Nadine. Turkey has also conducted joint military exercises recently with Kazakhstan. At the same time, Turkey has continued to participate in a wide variety of US and NATO exercises and operations, including Combined Task Force 150 and Operation Ocean Shield with NATO Maritime Group II. Turkey is also a base for US tactical nuclear weapons. Your understanding of Turkey


  7. nadine says:

    Wigwag, Turkey won’t join the EU because Turky has already joined the Iranian axis: Turkey now does its military exercises with Syria, not Israel, and defends Islamist governments anywhere, including Hamas, Iran and the Sudan. These new reforms, combined with the trumped-up coup charges against Army officers earlier this year, will make it much harder for any other party to unseat the AKP in elections. That’s what they are designed to do, however delicately Mr. Ben Katcher tiptoes around their purpose in his latest Pollyana descriptions.
    For Islamists, democracy is like a bus: you take it to where you want to go, then you get off.


  8. Mr.Murder says:

    Cyprus as a favored state might tip the scales in either direction.
    Either move is intended to make Turkey into more of a two party state. That makes policy much more predictable.
    Triangulate and expand member states.


  9. WigWag says:

    “As one prominent Turkish political commentator explained to me, Turkey’s relations with Europe are in a coma.” (Ben Katcher)
    If relations between Turkey and Europe are in a coma, then the time has come to pull the plug. While the idea of Turkish accession may still be on life support, the reality is that you pretty much have to be brain dead to think Turkey will be joining the EU during the lifetime of anyone reading Ben’s post.
    First of all, it’s unclear whether the European Union will survive in anything but name only. Events of recent days have exposed the profound weaknesses and glaring contradictions that exist at the heart of so-called European unity.
    Secondly, in light of everything happening in Europe it’s unclear why the Turks would want to join such a dysfunctional club. Europe is becoming increasingly hostile to its resident Muslims in general and Turks in particular; its budgets (which it uses to subsidize poorer members) are hemorrhaging and it is increasingly irrelevant to the disposition of world affairs. Do the Turks really want to jump onto a sinking ship?
    Thirdly, from a cultural perspective Turkey is becoming an increasingly devout nation; most of Europe is becoming radically secular (there are exceptions like Poland). In light of this, can Turks and the rest of Europe really coexist happily in the same Union?
    Finally, recent events in Turkey’s historical enemy, Greece, have driven the nails into the coffin of Turkish accession. Can Europe really afford to admit another economic basket case? Doesn’t it have enough basket cases of its own? As poor as the economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are; every one of these nations is dramatically wealthier than Turkey. Can the Germans and French really afford to take in another impoverished relation?
    Interestingly, anyone who goes back and looks will see that David Cameron has actually spoken quite positively about Turkish accession. If he becomes Prime Minister (and if he hasn’t changed his mind) it might give the slightest impetus to Turkish accession.
    But whether that occurs or not; it’s a lost cause. Turkey will not be joining the EU. It’s time for Turkey to cast its lot with the rest of the meshugana Muslim world. The formerly Christian and now secular nations of Europe have more than enough problems of their own.
    ps: The resignation of Deniz Baykal (the Turkish opposition leader) because of a sex scandal is the ultimate proof that Turkey doesn


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