[email protected]

October 13, 2011, Thursday

Turkey needs to push for democratic reforms

It is fair to say that the European Union, of which Turkey became a candidate member country at the 1999 Helsinki summit, has been the driving force behind Ankara’s democratization efforts, despite the fact that there has not been any progress at all in negotiations between the two in the past several years that would bring Turkey closer to acquiring full membership.

Turkey is obliged to comply with the 35 chapters of the EU Acquis Communautaire before its membership can be finalized. Since October 2005, when accession talks started between Ankara and the EU, however, negotiations have only been opened on 13 chapters.

The set back in relations is largely owed to both internal and external developments. Externally, the EU countries led by France and Germany have made their position clear by offering Turkey a privileged partnership status instead of full membership to the EU. The slowing down of Turkish democratic reforms in the past several years has been among the internal factors that have played into the hands of some EU countries opposing Turkey becoming a full member of the union. Even if the EU does not say it openly, Turkey’s overwhelmingly Muslim population has created a negative viewpoint in the union composed of Christian countries.

Despite all the ups and downs in the relations between Ankara and the EU, the status of being an applicant member has been a driver of change for Turkey.

The European Commission released its yearly progress report on Turkey on Wednesday, which emphasized the progress in Turkey’s push for democracy while underlining the lack of progress, among other things, in the freedom of press and in civil-military relations as the military continue to hold political power, albeit to a lesser extend.

The Commision’s conclusion on the civilian oversight of security forces in Turkey cited below, displays the poor state of civil-military relations in this NATO member country.

“Overall, good progress has been made on consolidating the principle of civilian oversight of security forces. The Supreme Military Council of August 2011 was a step towards greater civilian oversight of the armed forces. Civilian oversight of military expenditure was tightened and a revised National Security Plan adopted. In addition, Supreme Military Council decisions were opened to civilian judicial review. However, further reforms -- on the composition of the Supreme Military Council, military justice system and the Personnel Lawof the Turkish Armed Forces -- are still needed. In several instances, legislation intended to increase civilian oversight of the military [the Court of Accounts Law and the draft Ombudsman Law] was amended in parliament, weakening such oversight. On some occasions, the General Staff made comments on ongoing court cases.”

The commission’s above-mentioned assertion that in several instances, legislation intended to increase civilian oversight of the military which was weakened by being amended in Parliament underlines the necessity for a stronger legislative body to bring the military under full civilian democratic control.

There was another recently released report on Turkey published earlier this month by the UK-based Jane’s Defence Weekly, which underlined, among other things, the corruption practices in Turkey.

The report, available to subscribers, is published under the heading, “Navigating the Emerging Markets: Republic of Turkey.”

Here are some points from the JDW report:

-Procurement and spending transparency remain limited and the spectre of corruption remains despite reforms. Gifts, bribes and facilitation payments were historically an issue, although political support to end such activities has been strong;

- Turkey ranked 56th out of 178 countries in 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (ranked equally with Namibia and Malaysia);

-Civilian oversight: Boosted by passing of three laws in 2003 and 2004, and tangible results (e.g. corruption convictions) followed;

-Parliamentary oversight: Improvements made, although the place of military in political life and military extra-budgetary spending resources remain as challenges. Auditing laws passed in 2010 have yet to be implemented;

-Immunity: Members of parliament maintain immunity from prosecution for offences related to corruption

The conclusions of both the EU and the JDW reports clearly relay messages that Turkey should push for democratic reforms which have slowed down in the past several years.

Previous articles of the columnist