Multi-frontal race: EU and the Kurds


The Kurdish peace process is a huge socio-political challenge and a race against time for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, and its relations with the trouble-stricken EU are marked by frustration.

Turkey’s staunchly reformist justice minister, Sadullah Ergin, voiced it clearly on Monday in Brussels at the European Parliament.

Insight Turkey, a prestigious quarterly on Turkish domestic and international politics, had arranged a one-day meeting there under the title “Turkey and Europe — Drifting Apart?”

The same day, Ergin had the opportunity to explain the current status of the Turkish judicial reform process and to meet with key EU figures to update them.

As expected, the subject matter was a blend of democratization and the fate of the negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Given the intensity of intertwined processes, his talk was filled with often justifiable complaints on the indifference of the EU.

He gave the example of the unopened 23rd chapter whose screening process is incomplete for the accession process and said that despite a significant length of time, there was no information at all from Brussels about the results.

Using the metaphor, “the EU acts like a doctor who asks a patient why she did not take a medicine he did not prescribe,” he sighed.

He added that Turkey had indulged in a guessing game, trying to read the figurative body language and eye movements of the union to find clues on how to proceed.

Once more he noted that five of six so-called “unofficial opening criteria” regarding judicial reform, such as the Human Rights Action Plan and the judicial action scheme, were now complete.

But, of course, all the focus in Brussels was on when and how the so-called 4th Judicial Reform Package would be passed. We were told, as were the EU figures, that it was now with the Justice Commission of the Turkish Parliament and a final vote was expected by mid-April.

The package is primarily about revising the Counterterrorism Law (TMK) and other laws so that there will be a clear distinction between freedom of speech and assembly and affiliation with terrorist organizations.

If the package passes as Ergin wants, he hopes that a proper adjustment will be made to suit European norms and a number of people will be released from prison, many of whom are believed to have been held as a result of both misinterpretation of existing law and bad law.

Ergin readily admitted that there are flaws in the package, but also added that an even more serious trouble area is the mentality of the judiciary itself. He was also keen to underline that “the need for security and freedom cannot be sacrificed at each other’s cost,” a comment in line with the discourse of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) circles.

He also shared a personal concern. Whenever we have accelerated democratization, we have seen an escalation of terrorism and it has sadly led to a restriction of freedoms, he said. “This vicious circle must be brought to an end,” he concluded.

In this context, the AKP government has surely raised the stakes, since the judicial reform process is tightly linked to the peace talks with the PKK.

The most serious part is where Ankara sees the risk of real failure with everything: If the reforms and opening go on, but the process is undermined and public opinion turns against all the good achievements, then the real nightmare will creep in.

It is not just the absorption capacity of Turkish society that matters. The judicial package must pass as quickly as possible because the rest of the year will be a race for reform and deepening of the peace process.

The declaration of a cease-fire and a withdrawal by the PKK was only the initial phase. From now on it will be about managing them. The hope is the completion of the PKK withdrawal into Iraq by August-September.

The rough plan is to be able to reach the stage of a disarmament process by the end of November. In December Parliament will be occupied with budget talks and many deputies will be returning to their districts to take part in local election campaigns.

In other words, it is a fight against all odds.