Turkey Partnership with the EU

The adaptation of political, economic and social institutions to the parameters required by the European Union (EU) in view of the start of negotiations for the entry of Turkey as its member state, constituted in the early 21st century. the objective on which all the efforts of the political class were concentrated, however not always crowned with appreciable results.

Following the elections of April 1999, a heterogeneous government coalition was formed, made up of three parties of different ideological orientation, albeit united by both the defense of state secularism and hostility towards Islamist movements, namely: the Demokratik Sol Parti (DSP, Democratic Party of the Left), center-left, to which Prime Minister B. Ecevit belonged, Anavatan Partisi (ANAP, Motherland Party), center-right, and Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP, Party of the nationalist movement), far right. The other two parties present in Parliament were in opposition : the Fazilet Partisi (FP, Party of Virtue), Islamist; the secular and conservative Doǧru Yol Partisi (DYP, Right Way Party). The 2000 opened with the prospect of a major political event: the presidential election. These were preceded by attempts by the government to pass a constitutional reform that allowed the re-nomination of the outgoing president, S. Demirel (former leader of the DYP), who had been elected in 1993.. Prime Minister Ecevit went so far as to ask for the support of the FP, offering in exchange the revocation of the article of the Constitution which allowed the banning of political parties (a measure that had mainly affected Islamist and Kurdish formations). However, in Parliament the project did not obtain the necessary two-thirds majority of the votes twice (March and April). Consequently, the government decided to support Judge Ah.N. Sezer, president of the Constitutional Court (in Turkey one of the bastions of secularism), who was elected by Parliament on May 5 with 330 votes out of 550.

A partnership agreement was signed with the EU (December 2000), in March 2001the Minister of Finance, K. Derviş, announced a recovery plan that was supposed to lead to the solution of the serious financial crisis that the country was going through; in the same month the government published a detailed program of reforms in the economic (including a profound restructuring of the banking sector), social and administrative fields. In the foreground was also the prospect of some radical changes to the legal system, foreseen in the agreement with the EU, in particular the abolition of the death penalty and the guarantee of freedom of opinion and association. However, in June the FP was outlawed by the Constitutional Court because it was found guilty of fomenting religious hatred. The most traditionalist and conservative wing of the Islamist movement, led by R. Cutan, Saadet Partisi (SP, Party of Happiness), while the more pragmatic and reformist wing, led by the former mayor of İstanbul RT Erdoǧan and A. Gül, formed the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, Party of Justice and Development).

To meet the demands of the EU, Parliament approved 34 amendments to the Constitution in October, including: the reduction of police powers; the freedom to express any opinion, even in contrast with the principles of the Constitution; the right for the Kurdish population to use their own language, except in the fields of administration, education and public radio and television. In the following month, November, a revision of the civil code also sanctioned equal rights between men and women. In fact, however, the democratization process still proved to be very difficult: in January 2002 the Constitutional Court banned Erdoǧan (due to a conviction he suffered in 1999for words spoken during an official speech) the candidacy in future parliamentary elections, and therefore the possibility of being elected prime minister; in September, a report by Amnesty International announced that the use of torture remained a widespread practice in the country.

The November legislative elections recorded the unexpected victory of the AKP, which obtained 34.3 % of the votes and 363 seats (the other Islamist party, the SP, had only 2.5 %, and no seats; in the 1999 the FP had 15.4 % and 111 seats), followed by the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP, Republican People’s Party), secular and social democratic, with 19.4 % and 178 seats (8.7 % and no seats in 1999). The remaining 9 seats were assigned to independent candidates; in fact, following the 10% set by the electoral law, four of the five parties that were present in Parliament in the previous legislature did not get any seats: the DYP (9.5 %; 12 % and 85 seats in 1999), the MHP (8.3 %; 18 % and 129 seats), ANAP (5.1 %; 13.2 % and 86 seats) and the SDR (1.2 %; 22.2 % and 136seats). The political scene emerged from the elections profoundly changed in several respects: almost all the parties that had been part of a government since the end of the 1970s were excluded from parliamentary representation; for the first time an Islamist party had an absolute majority of seats and was therefore able to govern alone. The single-color government was formed by Gül, appointed interim prime minister for the period necessary for the implementation of a constitutional reform that would allow the ban on Erdoǧan to be lifted. The reform was approved in December; on 9 March 2003 Erdoǧan was elected a member of Parliament, and two days later appointed prime minister.

In June and July, again following the requests of the EU, Parliament approved another series of amendments to the Constitution: the right to use the Kurdish language was extended to schools and public radio and television programs; the legal definition of terrorist activity was narrowed, so as to exclude certain Kurdish and Marxist organizations; an amnesty was promulgated for several imprisoned militants of the main Kurdish independence group, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party). However, the country remained at the center of international attention for violations of human rights; in January, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International estimated that the hunger strike of political prisoners,2000 in about 20 prisons in protest against the prison regime, had already caused 104 victims. New tensions were also announced in the Kurdish question; in September, the PKK proclaimed the end of the ‘ceasefire’ unilaterally declared in February 2000 by its leader A. Öcalan.

On 15 and 20 November some serious attacks hit the city of İstanbul: four trucks were blown up in front of two synagogues in the city, the headquarters of the Anglo-Chinese Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and the British consulate, causing a total of 56 victims and ca. 750 wounded. Responsibility for the terrorist acts was attributed to a cell of Turkish fundamentalists connected to the al-Qā̔ida network. For Turkey 1998, please check constructmaterials.com.

In April 2004, the European Parliament voted by a large majority for a resolution denouncing the slowness with which Turkey was adapting to the conditions required by the EU; particular concerns were expressed about the continuing practice of torture and the persecution of minorities. The following month the Turkish Parliament approved another series of amendments to the Constitution: the death penalty was abolished, the special anti-terrorism courts were abolished and parliamentary control over the budget of the Armed Forces was established for the first time. In March of 2005 the EU expressed its open condemnation against the Turkish police for the violent repression of the unauthorized demonstrations held on the occasion of Women’s Day. The tension was aggravated by other contrasts: some EU countries proposed to impose on Turkey, as a further condition for the continuation of the negotiations, to recognize it as genocide (and not as an indirect consequence of the war then underway between Turkey and Russia, according to what was stated by the official Turkish interpretation) the killing of 1-1.5 million Armenians, in 1915-16, by the authorities of the Ottoman Empire; the proposal was bitterly contested by the government and by President Sezer himself. Furthermore, the possible admission of Turkey to the EU seemed to assume a destabilizing role within the EU itself; it was in fact one of the factors that motivated the negative outcome of the referendums on the European Constitution held in May in France and the Netherlands.

Although the new penal code (one of the conditions dictated by the EU) was introduced in June, the obstacles on the way to integration into the Union were far from overcome. In August, Turkey received the warning that the start of negotiations, scheduled for October 2006, would have been postponed if the country did not recognize the Greek Cypriot government. The most severe positions were taken by Austria and France, who proposed the hypothesis of a referendum on this specific question. In November there was a strong condemnation of the persistence of both human rights violations and discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. The trial brought in December against the writer O. Pamuk, for his open position on the responsibility of the Ottoman Empire in the extermination of the Armenians, stigmatized by the government as’ denigration of the country. In the same period, Turkey1974).

In the South-East of the country (an area whose population was mostly Kurdish-speaking), the clashes between the PKK guerrillas and the army resumed, which were particularly violent between the summer of 2005 and that of 2006 ; the PKK also resorted to attacks, including against Western tourists (July 2005, August 2006). On the other hand, other attacks were carried out by far-right Turkish clandestine organizations against the Kurdish population (May-June 2006). The worsening of the situation in the Kurdish area also led to widespread popular protests against the police, protests that sometimes resulted in real riots (October-November 2005, March-April 2006).

In May 2006, Turkey withdrew its ambassadors from France and Canada, countries that had offered their support to the request made by the Armenian government that the extermination of the Armenians be classified as genocide by the entire international community; the French Parliament passed a law in October which classified its denial as a crime.

Turkey’s image was further damaged by the non-recognition of the Greek Cypriot government. On the part of some countries of the Union, in particular Germany, pressures were multiplying to abandon the integration plan of Turkey altogether, in favor of a condition of privileged partnership. In December, the EU decided, “following Turkish defaults”, to suspend negotiations with Turkey on most of the issues under consideration for one year.

Turkey Partnership with the EU