PACE invites Turkish FM to urgent session

The proposal to hold an urgent meeting came after a state prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court in March to close down the ruling AK Party.

PACE invites Turkish FM to urgent session

Parliamentarians at Europe's human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, are preparing to discuss an ongoing closure case against Turkey's ruling party at an urgent session later this month, and they announced yesterday that Foreign Minister Ali Babacan has also been invited to the critical gathering, which observers fear could result in a decision to put Turkey back on a list of countries that require monitoring of their democratic practices.

The proposal to hold an urgent meeting came after a state prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court in March to close down the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on charges of becoming a "focal point for anti-secular activities." The proposal was introduced at the initiative of the heads of the assembly's five political groups and approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Bureau during a recent meeting on May 29.

As of yesterday afternoon, officials at the Foreign Ministry were not able to say whether Babacan would accept the invitation by Strasbourg. The same officials, however, emphasized that the issue is being followed by Ankara "at highest level as a state affair."

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, an AK Party member and the head of the Turkish delegation to PACE, said Turkish parliamentarians have been exerting intense efforts for preventing a possible monitoring decision.

A monitoring process will do serious damage to Turkey and it will be more difficult to get released from that process compared to the past, Çavuşoğlu told Today's Zaman, noting that he believed that PACE is not aiming to punish Turkey. They aim to help Turkey "overcome ongoing problems without crisis," he added, reiterating that the idea of an urgent debate has not been welcomed at all by Turkey.

"If a decision for holding an urgent debate on a particular country is made, the possibility of that country being put under monitoring procedure is high," Luc Van den Brande, a Belgian member of PACE, told Today's Zaman, noting that the most important reason for holding the debate was the closure case against the AK Party.

Last week, Turkey's Constitutional Court overturned a constitutional amendment that would have ended a ban on the Muslim headscarf in universities, a move that has widely been interpreted as indicating that the court is positioning itself above Parliament as a legislative organ. The headscarf ruling will play a central role in the closure case against the AK Party -- which has been in power since 2002 and was re-elected last July with an overwhelming 47 percent of the popular vote -- on charges of anti-secular activities. The chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, who filed the case, is also seeking to ban 71 AK Party members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as President Abdullah Gül, from belonging to a political party for five years.

In June 2004 PACE decided to end the monitoring of Turkey, declaring that the country had "achieved more reform in a little over two years than in the previous decade" and had clearly demonstrated its commitment and ability to fulfill its statutory obligations as a member state of the Council of Europe. Then, the assembly resolved to continue "post-monitoring dialogue" with Turkish authorities on a twelve-point list of outstanding issues. Only two other countries, Bulgaria and Macedonia, are in the process of post-monitoring dialogue.

Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1949, when it undertook to honor obligations concerning pluralist democracy, the rule of law and human rights enshrined in the organization's founding statute. The assembly's monitoring procedure -- which involves regular visits to the country and dialogue with its authorities -- was opened in 1996.

The PACE Monitoring Committee currently has 11 countries under monitoring procedure: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine.

During the upcoming debate, the assembly is likely to appoint Brande, who is a member of the Monitoring Committee, as rapporteur for Turkey. Brande acknowledged that he was likely to be assigned to the post and added that this would be clear as of June 23.

"There are criteria set for closure of political parties by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. We see that these criteria are not met in the case against the AK Party," Brande told Today's Zaman, referring to the fact that according to the principles of the Venice Commission, of which Turkey is a member, a political party can only be banned if it advocates the use of violence or seeks to use violence to overthrow the constitutional order.

"An EU candidate needs to obey rules set by the Council of Europe for protection of democracy and human rights. Speaking frankly, it is not possible for a country under the Council of Europe's monitoring to also be a member of the EU. There is, of course, a mutual interaction between the EU and the Council of Europe," Brande said when asked whether a possible monitoring decision by Strasbourg would have any impacts on Turkey's EU bid.

Turkey was given EU candidate country status at the Helsinki summit in December 1999, when it was also noted that it would be required to meet the same conditions for accession as other countries.

Turkey started an expansive reform process after the summit in order to meet the EU criteria and has been engaged in this process ever since. The then-coalition government under the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit abolished the death penalty in 2002 as a historic step toward the EU.

The Copenhagen summit in December 2002 also moved Turkey closer to the EU. The EU Council finally decided that negotiations would start without delay if Turkey met the Copenhagen political criteria by the December 2004 summit, only a few months after PACE had decided to end the monitoring of Turkey.

Turkey began EU membership talks in 2005, but they have been held back by the continued division of Cyprus, slow progress in EU-mandated reforms and frosty attitudes in some EU countries, such as France. The EU froze eight chapters in 2006 in response to Turkey's refusal to grant trade privileges to Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognize, under a customs union pact with the bloc.

PACE rapporteur plans to visit Turkey in autumn

Only a day before an urgent planned debate on Turkey, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will discuss a report concerning "the state of democracy in Europe" on June 25 during the during the assembly's upcoming plenary session later this month. "Constitutional reform is still required in Turkey, with a view to ensuring full compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights," the report notes as a major shortcoming concerning Turkey with respect to the separation of powers and the role of Parliament.

Serhiy Holovaty of Ukraine, the rapporteur, also said that he planned to visit Turkey in autumn this year in his capacity as chair of the Committee on the Honoring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee).

Holovaty said he would report back to the committee on progress made by Turkish authorities on the 12 issues mentioned in 2004 when PACE had decided to end the monitoring of Turkey, declaring that the country had "achieved more reform in a little over two years than in the previous decade" and had clearly demonstrated its commitment and ability to fulfill its statutory obligations as a member state of the Council of Europe. Then, the assembly resolved to continue "post-monitoring dialogue" with the authorities on a 12-point list of outstanding issues.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 11 Haziran 2008, 07:49
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