He said he will maintain his fair and consistent position during his term in office as the head of PACE.
Noting that he was glad to be elected as a Turkish and Muslim chairman and reiterating that the framework of his term is delineated by the core values of the Council of Europe, Çavuşoğlu indicated that they will step up their pressure on Turkey to draft a civilian constitution. He underlined that they will continue to voice their recommendation loudly for the opening of the Halki Seminary on the island of Heybeliada near İstanbul. “If Turkey has some deficiencies concerning Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslim minorities and gypsies -- as was recently discussed -- we will voice its deficiencies concerning human rights. In the past, I argued that the Halki Seminary should be opened. I will now reiterate it, but this time with a louder voice as the head of PACE. One advantage of our voicing Turkey’s shortcomings will be that since we know what our prime minister and our government intend to do, we will also acknowledge their determination,” he said.
Çavuşoğlu mentioned that during his election as the head of PACE there were references to his identity as a Turk and a Muslim, but he stressed that they would continue to adopt the Council of Europe’s perspective towards developments in order to justify the suggestion of delegations from many countries during the election that the Turkish delegation and Çavuşoğlu have consistent views.
Çavuşoğlu gave an exclusive interview to Sunday’s Zaman.
A Turkish chairman was elected as the head of PACE for the first time its 60-year history. How did this happen?
We can say that Turkey’s recent good performance and the objective, fair and consistent attitude of the Turkish delegation played a decisive role in this. It is really important that a Turkish chairman was elected for the first time to an organization of which Turkey is a founding member. The Council of Europe is an organization of which Turkey was a second-class member until 2004. This is important not only for Turkey, but friends from other countries who support us stress that this election was important also for them.
What is their perspective?
In its past, dating back 60 years, the chairmen of PACE only came from 10 countries. There were mostly British chairmen. There were also German, Spanish, Belgian and Austrian chairmen. It also had chairmen from the Netherlands and Denmark. In other words, the presidency was an office circulating among these 10 countries. With the election of a Turkish delegate as the chairman, the number of the countries producing PACE chairmen will rise to 11. All of the countries other than these 10 have said that electing a Turkish chairman is very important for them as well. They think that by exceeding the threshold of 10 countries, the spell has been broken.
Isn’t it also important in that it is a proof of the functioning of democratic mechanisms in PACE?
Those who are aware of the significance of this election for the council advocate it fervently. Western Europeans and Central Europeans are aware of this and see it as an advantage for the council. They advocate it in every platform.
Do you think the recent change in Turkish foreign policy was also influential?
Yes, certainly. It is also an indicator of the progress Turkey has made in foreign policy. There is major progress compared to the Turkey of 10 years ago. We have evolved from a country whose ties with neighbors were very limited and which was suffering from ebbs and flows in its relations with the European Union and which withdrew its application for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council after seeing that it would not be elected, to a country that has won almost all elections to the management boards of many international organizations during the last five years.
I think Turkey should make use of this progress in a very smart way and undertake its responsibility dutifully and eliminate its risks when there is a Turkish citizen at the top position of PACE. This is also to Turkey’s advantage. First, it should step up its efforts for a new constitution. Major improvements should be made with regard to human rights.
Will you need to increase pressure over these issues?
We will. I repeatedly reiterate this on every occasion, and I will continue to stress it. Turkey should get rid of the coup constitution and draft a new civilian constitution. It should never fear it, and if a referendum is needed, it should be done without hesitation because the nation sees this as a necessity. This recommendation is voiced in all reports issued by the Council of Europe. Moreover, Turkey should not see it as a matter of pride, but seek to obtain the opinion of the Venice Commission. Even countries that we regard as more advanced than us already consult the Venice Commission. And as you know, Ergun Özbudun, an esteemed scholar, is a member of this commission. I think it will be beneficial for Turkey to receive his opinion as well. Another benefit to Turkey is that the debate about whether Turkey is European will no longer make sense. Those who insist on discussing it will remain alone. As the Turkish people feel themselves as more and more a part of Europe, Europeans will share this feeling more.
Don’t you think reforms are a bit late?
Yes, the most important reform that must be implemented is the judicial reform. When the closure case was brought against the AK Party, the Council of Europe declared that it would subject Turkey to a second-class audit once again, which was an effective reaction. A resolution by the council recommended that measures should be taken to make party closures more difficult and that legal amendments should be made to this effect. Many things should have been done by now. So we can say that things were a bit late. It should be done. We know that it is hard, but it must be done. If necessary, a referendum should be held.
Were you a bit slow?
Let us say that there was no room for it on the agenda. But we have to force the agenda to its limit and overcome the busy agenda in order to make it.
How will you overcome the obstacles in improving the visibility of the council?
We will not leave it to chance. We have projects to improve the council’s image. We would like to open our project, titled Partnership for Democracy, to non-member countries. Of course, the countries concerned should give a positive response to these joint projects. We are now working on such a project for Kazakhstan. Actually, our original plan was to make Kazakhstan an observer member, but Kazakhstan canceled its talks with the council last June. This came as a disappointment. We do not know the reason. But we are in a good position with regard to the Partnership for Democracy project. If we can obtain good results with Kazakhstan, we are planning to extend the project to other Turkic republics in Central Asia, and if we get a positive response, to some Middle Eastern countries and some countries of North Africa.
What is the purpose of this project?
Our purpose is to effect a positive improvement with respect to democracy in these countries or to help those countries wishing to take steps for improving democracy, human rights and freedoms, and to try to explain what these values of the Council of Europe mean and to cooperate for their establishment. Of course, the countries concerned should have a positive attitude towards it. It does not make sense if we are the only party willing to cooperate. You cannot make progress if only one side intends to cooperate. The interest shown by the opposite party is also important.
Do the countries in Central Asia have such an interest or send positive signals?
There is a certain tendency toward cooperating with us in the Turkic republics of Central Asia. We know that it would be hard with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but we believe that we can make a start with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Wouldn’t it make things easier if there were popular support?
We have a project for a summer university. We discuss various matters with our colleagues from different countries. It is a project to which academics and politicians in Strasbourg are making significant contributions. Now, we want to open it to non-member countries as well, and we would like to invite students from those countries. Under the term of the Turkish presidency, we would like to organize this in Turkey.
What will be the main topics you will stress in your speech?
First of all, I will note that a Turkish and Muslim person has been elected as chairman for the first time. We have some projects concerning the Council of Europe, and I will mention them. I will speak in English for about 10 minutes and in Turkish for several minutes. I will draw attention to certain matters about the future of the Council of Europe.
If it were not for Turkey’s performance during the last five years…
Turkey has been taking democratic steps, though a bit slowly or sluggishly, for some time. Do you think these steps had a good effect on your election?
Yes, absolutely. If Turkey had not made those reforms, and if it had not gotten over the review in 2004 thanks to those reforms and its determination -- there were 12 preconditions listed in the report about our exemption from review, and Turkey has complied with most of these preconditions, including the passage of the law on non-Muslim minorities’ foundations -- we would not have even considered declaring our nomination. Our election would never have been imagined, as our president put it.
The EU and the Council of Europe have parallel standards in this respect. The report adopted by the European Parliament -- as you will remember, with placards reading “yes” in various languages -- was considerably influential in the Council of Europe removing us from review in 2004. It also played a significant role in our being given a date for negotiations on Dec. 17.
It Turkey had not taken democratic steps, we would not have been entitled to be the term president of the Council of Europe. Turkey then started to show an upward trend. We obtained the chairmanship of three committees -- Abdül Kadir Ateş for the political committee, Gülsüm Bilgehan for the committee for equal opportunity for men and women, and myself [Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu] for the immigration committee. But the country’s good report card was the most important factor for our current performance.
Will your chairmanship boost the initiatives?
During our chairmanship, Turkey should feel more responsible for improving its standards and continue to undertake reforms. This will also prove good for the country’s membership process. Turkey will and should keep on with reforms. It would be a contradiction for Turkey to fail to comply with its responsibilities under our chairmanship.
No discriminationamong countries
You say that your fair and consistent attitudes played a role in your election. Can you elaborate on that?
Not only me, but also the Turkish delegation exhibited a fair and consistent attitude. There were attempts to strip the delegations of certain countries of their voting rights due to some problems in those countries. We objected to such an attempt with regard to Azerbaijan. We also objected to a similar attempt with regard to the Armenian delegation -- although our ties with Armenia are strained. Likewise, we supported Georgia and Ukraine. When we did the same for Russia, some said that we were favoring a large country. Indeed, some would favor big countries, but we never faltered in our consistency. We also criticized the Albanians and Bosnians for their faults even though they are Muslim.