‘Turkey should not keep unamendable articles, but...’

November 03, 2010, Wednesday/ 16:54:00/ YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN
The president of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has said that the council prefers Turkey not keep the three unamendable articles of its constitution, but if that is linked to a desire to abandon the secular character of the state, then they might be kept.

“If keeping these articles are necessary to get a consensus on a new constitution within society, this may be a price worth paying,” Gianni Buquicchio said yesterday at the panel “Democratization process of Turkey in the light of a new constitution,” at the enlarged bureau meeting of the Greens of the European Parliament (EP), which was held Nov. 1-2 at the İstanbul Congress Center.

He also referred to the fact that some European countries also have unamendable provisions in their constitutions, but they are not so broadly interpreted. “In the Turkish case, these articles seem to be interpreted very broadly and used against the possibility of change. They are even used as a basis for the review of constitutional amendments in a manner that has no parallel in other European states,” he said.

Buquicchio has also repeated his calls on Turkey to adopt a brand new constitution to solve its problems.

“The current constitution establishes a tutelary regime, which may have had some justification in the past, but no longer corresponds to the development of Turkish society,” he said, adding the process of democratization has been going on for several years, and “The Turkey of today deserves a better constitution.” In regard to the details of the constitution, he said positive principles like secularism, separation of powers and protection of fundamental rights should be maintained.

“It is time for Turkey to abandon the traditional mistrust in its people and their elected representatives and adopt the normal standards of a liberal democracy,” he said reaffirming the commission’s commitment to share its expertise with Turkish authorities over constitutional revisions.

He said for the first time the Turkish government asked the Venice Commission, which is the constitutional advisory body of the Council of Europe, to review the implementation of the amendments accepted in the Sept. 12 referendum.

Buquicchio also stressed the issue of a solution to the country’s long-lasting Kurdish problem and the importance of giving a sufficient role to local governments, which is not allowed in the current constitution.

He was also critical of the role of the National Security Council (MGK) which he said remains strong despite the 2001 amendments and that of the military courts, which have a strong position.

Also at the panel, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group deputy chairman Bekir Bozdağ responded by saying that changes in the MGK can be described as “making the possible within the possibilities of practical politics.”

Civil society raises voice, explains demands

The EP’s Greens, long supporters of Turkey’s accession to the European Union, have provided a platform for various civil society organizations and political party representatives in İstanbul to express their concerns and demands in the constitution-making process.

Professor Süheyl Batum, who recently joined the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) as a member, was quite critical of the government’s steps and said that the government should guarantee people’s rights rather than just providing rights.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chairperson of the Greens in EP, asked Batum to explain how they are now critical of the 1982 constitution of the military regime since they used it.

Then Batum answered that they have apparently not been effective in expressing their desire for constitutional change and promised that he would send their draft constitution to the EP Greens as soon as possible. Cohn-Bendit also asked AK Party’s Bozdağ if they will address the issue of sexual orientation in the new constitution as it is considered a fundamental freedom in the European charter.

Bozdağ said while the issue has started to occupy the public debate, the party has not expressed a clear view yet but plans to join the debate.

Another issue that was stressed by representatives of civil society groups was the environment. Several environmental activists at the meeting questioned the Greens for not addressing problems regarding some steps of the government that they considered anti-environment, like giving a nuclear energy project to Russia without even going through a contract award process.

Representatives of the Greens said they are well aware of these problems and follow them closely as they dedicated panels Monday afternoon to the issue of energy. On Tuesday afternoon, the debate focused on “European culture” discussed by Cohn-Bendit, writer Elif Şafak, academic Jean François Bayart and philosopher Ioanna Kuçuradi and moderated by French Green Hélène Flautre, who also serves as the co-chairperson of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, and journalist Mehmet Ali Birand.

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