EU TurkeyAs has been widely reported, Turkey has a bit of a problem on its hands with the selection of its new President. Opposition CHP members of Parliament boycotted the vote, so the election of the ruling AK Party’s candidate – Abdullah Gul – has been called into question. Gul was the only candidate, but he did not gain the required 2/3 majority. The voting procedure to select the President of Turkey is explained in Wikipedia. The CHP has called for the matter to be taken to the Constitutional Court and the hearing on that takes place today. How about a coherent EU position on this?

The AK Party of Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan makes no secret of its Islamic roots. The wives of both Gul and Erdogan wear headscarves in public while public servants are barred from doing so. However the oath sworn by the President contains the following lines:
“In my capacity as President of the Republic … to abide by the constitution, the rule of law, democracy, principles and reforms of Ataturk and the principle of the secular republic;”

Secular values are at the heart of the Turkish Republic, and the army has always been seen as the strongest defender of those values. So the heads of the miliary stated last week that they are “watching this [election] situation with concern.”

Cue the intervention of the EU. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has piped up, stating that the military must not meddle with politics, a theme developed further by Barroso’s spokesman Laitenberger [news story here]. Rehn also stated:
“It is important that the military leaves the remit of democracy to the democratically elected government and this is a test case if the Turkish armed forces respect democratic secularism and the democratic arrangement of civil-military relations.”

OK, but what happens if the party that would control all of the parts of the Turkish government was one that was opposed to the secular values of the state? Also bear in mind that the secular state is one of the crucial building blocks on which Turkish accession to the EU is built; it is the main counter-argument to politicians like Merkel who fear a state with a Muslim population within the EU.

On the other hand, Gul has been the main man in EU-Turkey negotiations, getting Turkey further along the road to EU accession than anyone before him. How much sway does that hold with EU leaders? Maybe Germany and France would be quite happy to see an erosion of secularism – that might well help achieve the aim of keeping Turkey out. If Gul is serious about keeping accession on track he might be canny enough to go out of his way to show he would respect the values of the Turkish republic.

It strikes me that there is plenty of smoke and mirrors here in the game that the EU is playing. Yes, of course the European Commission must demand that the military stays out of politics, and the rule of law is respected, and no-one wishes to see any bloodshed. But there cannot be a simple EU position on this matter for this matter strikes far too close to the heart of EU-Turkey relations.


  1. Türkei

    Abdullah Gül has done so far a very good job. Especially takeing business men with him to foreign travels. Last President Ahmet Necdet Sezer was very passive in this context.

  2. Shane O hEorpa


    I was in Alanya where my baggage was stolen (at the airport) and the AKP was very helpful (it turned out the guy I was staying with – his uncle is the local mayor – of course with the AKP) and people were telling me how good the AKP have done, encouraging investment, job regeneration etc. Before that, I had my doubts about AKP but after that, I thought ‘Oh, the Turkish version of Sinn Fein!’ – a very strong community-based political party.

    Both parties *do *care about what people actually wants.

    The only bother is that religion and politics always mix – but its the end-product of the general attitude of the community.

    Think council estates in England and the unbelievably high votes for BNP – BNP wasn’t started by just a bunch of crazy racists – it is more of an end-result of the general feeling among communities like that.


    However, the real bother is that there is a big difference between Kemalism and Turkish secularism and how does it actually work – what is the European version of secularism?

    (lack of sleep – forgive me English)

  3. Jon it seems to me your article comes close to arguing that the EU should intervene in Turkish politics because not to do so threatens potential Turkish accession to the EU. Also you rightly mention that the principle of a secular Turkish state is part of the story too.

    But surely the principle of democratic control of a country by its own citizens is more important that either of these principles. And if the politicians elected to the Turkish Parliament want to pursue other goals more highly than EU accession, or to make it more a religious state, surely that’s up to them – even if it’s disappointing to EU citizens who might like to see them make different choices. There are of course plenty of states which have made the choice not to be part of the EU, and others which have made the choice to be non-secular states – they are both reasonable choices which Turkey is entitled to make.

  4. I might have got the emphasis wrong in what I’ve written.

    I don’t want the EU to intervene in Turkish politics, but Olli Rehn has been stronger in his words about Turkey than any EU politician has about the problems in Romania for example. But while the EU realises it should say something, it’s far from clear what should be said.

    I dislike what the AK party stands for but if that is the will of the people, so be it. But it might well be the case that the population wants AK in power but does not want to change the role of the President – with the system as it stands its hard for that view to be expressed.

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