On November 5 the European Commission released its 2008 progress report about Turkey. The report examines political and economic criteria as well as Turkey’s ability to assume the obligations of membership in terms of state and social structure, that is, intellectual property rights, free movement of goods, and so forth.
The report examines the economic criteria in terms of “the existence of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union” (Turkey 2008 Progress Report, Commission of the European Communities, November 5). The report underlines the fact that consensus among different bodies of government and independent institutions on the essentials of economic policy has been maintained and coordination of the economy has improved. It states that “macroeconomic stability has been broadly preserved during the reporting period. Financial market turbulence and domestic political developments added some uncertainty to the business environment”; but at the same time, it stressed the economy’s improved resilience so far (Turkey 2008 Progress Report, Commission of the European Communities, November 5).
In contrast to the progress in economic criteria, the report observes that the government has failed to implement further reforms to maintain its progress in the political area, specifically pointing to legislative and executive functions, while crediting the new president’s positive role in calling for political reforms. It notes that the government has not put forward a consistent and comprehensive program of political and constitutional reforms. The report observes that the government failed to address such chronic problems in Turkey as freedom of association, freedom of religion, civilian oversight of the security forces, and a new constitution. The closure cases against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Democratic Society Party (DTP) “illustrate that the current legal provisions applicable to political parties do not provide political actors with an adequate level of protection from the state’s interference in their freedom of association and freedom of expression” (Turkey 2008 Progress Report, Commission of the European Communities, November 5).
With regard to the military’s role in politics, the reports indicates that through formal and informal mechanisms, the armed forces have continued to exercise significant political influence. “Senior members of the armed forces have expressed their opinion on domestic and foreign policy issues going beyond their remit, including on Cyprus, the South East, secularism, political parties and other non-military developments” (Turkey 2008 Progress Report, Commission of the European Communities, November 5).
The report states that no progress has been made on the fundamental problem of regulations that stipulate “the role and duties of the Turkish military and grant the military wide room for maneuver by providing a broad definition of national security. And no progress has been made on enhancing civilian control over the Gendarmerie when engaged in law enforcement activities” (Turkey 2008 Progress Report, Commission of the European Communities, November 5).
This slowdown in the EU process is not a new phenomenon. The debate about whether the EU really wants to grant Turkey membership began as early as 2006 (www.abhaber.com, November 15, 2006).
Immediately after the election in July 2007, the AKP gave a group of academics the mandate to revise the 1982 constitution with a view, among other things, to aligning it with international standards on fundamental rights. The mainstream media and opposition parties, however, launched a campaign against the AKP’s attempt to revise the constitution (Hurriyet, August 28, 2007). As a result, no draft has been presented either to the public or to parliament. Despite the fact that the AKP based its July 2007 elections campaign on revising the 1982 constitution, the AKP’s failure to achieve this was a big setback for the party’s efforts to accelerate democratic reforms. Since then, the AKP has changed its direction to avoid confrontation with the state elites and the mainstream media.
This year the AKP has lost its dedication and willingness to implement further reforms (Zaman, June 26). With its new policy of not accelerating the reforms called for by the EU, the AKP established a new strategy: instead of seeking outside support to legitimize its existence in politics, the AKP has used its powerful position in the Kurdish region to try to establish better relations with the military and judiciary.
In addition to the AKP’s problems with promoting the EU reforms, the Chief Public Prosecutor applied to the Constitutional Court on March 14 to have the governing AKP dissolved and 71 former and present party officials, including President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, barred from political activity. The case against the AKP has prompted the party to devote much of its energy to establishing better relations with the state elite (April 3). The closer the AKP has approached the state elite, the more it has moved away from implementing new EU-related reforms. Ironically, however, the Constitutional Court pointed to the AKP’s EU agenda as evidence that the AKP was not pursuing a hidden agenda to bring about Islamic rule (Radikal, October 24)
After establishing better relations with the military elite since September, it has become less likely that the AKP will make any further progress in implementing the required reforms. On the contrary, the prime minister even went so far as to lose his temper and suggest that “those who do not like the idea of one nation [Kurds] should leave the country” (see EDM, November 4).