PM Davutoğlu ‘guarantees’ a genuine European charter for Turkey
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Strasbourg yesterday to address the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) came at a moment when critical voices about the state of fundamental freedoms in Turkey have become louder and harsher. The deterioration in freedom of expression, press freedom and the rule of law was widely covered by two reports issued last week by the European Parliament and the U.S. State Department.
Davutoğlu used the opportunity to offer guarantees to members of PACE that his government’s commitment to democracy, fundamental rights and universal values was intact, and there was no need to be concerned about Turkey’s democratic future.
“The fundamental principles of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights will constitute the main pillars of the spirit of the [new] constitution. I tell you this as a commitment, as a guarantee. There will be not even a single article in our constitution that will be against the universal democratic values of the world,” Davutoğlu said yesterday.
In further remarks, he underlined that the constitution currently being drafted by his Justice and Development Party (AKP) will endorse the presidential system, while arguing that this will not bring authoritarian rule to Turkey.
“If the spirit [of the constitution] is well defined then this structure will function. What is important is to protect the spirit,” Davutoğlu added. This was perhaps the first time that he has tried to explain and defend to European parliamentarians the AKP’s attempt to shift Turkey to a presidential political system.
The AKP’s road map for the new constitution will consist of public and parliamentary debates about the draft, which it says will “re-balance the equation between authority and responsibility” and will “enhance check-and-balance mechanisms,” said the prime minister, trying to assure his audience that adopting the presidential system in Turkey will not bring about absolute one-man rule.
Davutoğlu’s visit to the Council of Europe coincides with a planned visit by senior European officials to the Turkish town of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria. The delegation includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk.
Merkel’s appearance in Turkey will surely attract a lot of attention, especially after she recently gave permission for the potential prosecution of a German comedian on charges of insulting the Turkish president. An editorial by the New York Times openly criticized Merkel for opening the way for legal proceedings against the comedian, suggesting that it would set a precedent for more attempts in the future.
At a time when Turkey and the EU have been in intensified contact to prevent the derailment of the migrant deal, it is quite obvious that issues concerning human rights and democratic norms in Turkey have been put aside by European leaders. This is why Davutoğlu’s appearance at the PACE, responding to the questions of European parliamentarians, was significant. Indeed, the “guarantees” he have on the nature of Turkey’s new constitution will certainly be closely followed.