2 April 2008
Statement by European observers in OpenDemocracy: Turkey's risk, Europe's role

A court hearing over the legality of Turkey's ruling party could imperil the country's progress towards European Union membership, says a group of leading European observers.

This statement was originally published in OpenDemocracy.

Mary Kaldor Charles Grant Nathalie Tocci Soli Özel Gerald Knaus

Mary Kaldor

Charles Grant

Nathalie Tocci

Soli Özel

Gerald Knaus

Two of the four political parties in the Turkish parliament are now facing cases in the constitutional court, led by the chief prosecutor of the court of appeals, to declare them illegal. If these cases are found to have merit, then half of the Turkish electorate (as in the general election of July 2007) has voted for political parties which are a grave threat to the democratic order. If the cases are not merited, then there is a problem with the highest prosecutor of the land seeking such grave measures, and the judiciary may be in need of an overhaul.

Three months ago, we declared that as a group of European citizens who are committed to a political Europe and a democratic Turkey, we would follow European Union-Turkey relations closely (see "Turkey and a new vision for Europe" (12 December 2007 ). In this respect, recent events have given us grave concern.

Either way, these developments put at risk Turkey's compliance with the "Copenhagen criteria" which expect European Union candidate states to achieve stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law. Furthermore, the debates of February-March 2008 have triggered additional doubts whether Turkey has achieved a minimally sustainable modus vivendi among different lifestyles.

We call on the leaders of the government and the opposition to reverse these troubling trends. The governing Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice & Development Party / AKP) is said to be considering a "surgical" constitutional amendment to make the disbandment of a political party difficult. That would be a mistake, as the AKP promised a liberal European constitution before the July 2007 elections, but has repeatedly failed to take action. Despite repeated promises, Article 301 of the penal code has also not been reformed. A comprehensive constitutional reform, not surgical and selective amendments, is overdue.

We are also deeply disappointed that the main opposition party, the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People's Party / CHP), has failed to articulate a coherent EU perspective for Turkey, and has not challenged the government to be more energetic on EU reforms. We fail to understand this inaction and lack of commitment on the part of the opposition. In the past, several countries have overcome deep societal schisms through a grand consensus on their European vocation. If the government and opposition do not do the same in Turkey, history will not look on them kindly.

There is a vital role for the European Union in all this. The EU now needs to redouble its efforts to state unequivocally that Turkey, if and when it completes its reforms, will be welcomed into the union. In December 2007, we argued that the credible prospect of EU membership was the best way to achieve a democratic and reformed Turkey which was in European interest. We now feel more strongly than ever that this is the case.


  • Hakan Altinay, Open Society Institute, Istanbul
  • Daniele Archibugi, Italian National Research Council, Rome
  • Anthony Barnett, openDemocracy, London
  • Murat Belge, Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Istanbul
  • Krzysztof Bobinski, Unia & Polska Foundation, Warsaw
  • Mient Jan Faber, Free University, Amsterdam
  • Sabah al Fakir, University of Lille, Lille
  • Charles Grant, Centre for European Reform, London
  • Judith Herrin, King's College, London
  • Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics, London
  • Gerald Knaus, ESI, Berlin
  • David Kral, Europeum, Prag
  • Etyen Mahcupyan, TESEV, Istanbul
  • Giles Merritt, Friends of Europe, Brussels
  • Soli Özel, Bilgi University, Istanbul
  • Kristina Persson, Global Challenges, Stockholm
  • Ulrich Preuss, Free University, Berlin
  • Mario Soares, Fundação Mário Soares, Lisbon
  • Eduard Soler, CIDOB, Barcelona
  • Nathalie Tocci, IAI, Rome
  • Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, ECFR, Madrid