Turkish President Gül welcomes move to continue charter talks

Turkish President Gül welcomes move to continue charter talks

LISBON - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish President Gül welcomes move to continue charter talks

Turkish President Gül (R), who is a Beşiktaş fan, signs a jersey of Galatasaray, which has recently won the title in the Turkish League in Lisbon.

It was only two days ago that President Abdullah Gül regretted that Parliament’s effort to write a brand-new, democratic Constitution had come to an end with no result.

Perhaps his words came like a cold shower to the opposition parties which actually have worries that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants a strong presidency for himself in the 2014 election. Perhaps it triggered a sort of “This is our business” or “I started it, I am the one who is to say it is over” kind of attitude within the Justice and Development party (AKP) government. But following reactions by opposition parties, Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Commission declared late on May 7 – as Gül’s statement was still in the headlines – that the panel’s work had been extended until July 1, the day when Parliament is expected to go into summer recess.

Gül is now “happy to hear that.” If, “God willing,” the parties manage to reconcile over a text for a brand-new Constitution, he said he would certainly “applaud all parties in Parliament.”

He made two important remarks regarding the new charter and its possible links with the Kurdish issue as the day arrived for the expected beginning of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) pullout from Turkish territory.

The first is a distinction between the identity of Turkish citizenship and the identity of the “Turkish state.” The second is the upper and lower limits of the outcome of the Kurdish solution and the constitutional renewal processes. The upper limit is the happiness of the most number of citizens, the lower is to prevent secession within society, Gül said, adding that the aim of the process should be the eventual disarming of the PKK.

Gül also answered questions on Turkey’s European Union membership adventure, now approaching its 50th anniversary, and the transparency of government expenditures.

You expressed your sorrow since it had become evident that making a new Constitution was not possible. Political parties responded to it and Parliament extended its working period until July 1. What can you say about these developments?

I am very pleased about that. This shows that everyone is aware of its importance, and everyone wants this. I was thinking that all the leading parties agreed on the fundamental subject matters and everyone favored a new Constitution. Everyone agrees on a Constitution which would be consistent with a democratic and secular state of law. There might have been other parties who had rather radical ideas.

Consequently, I had always believed that a new Constitution was possible. But last time I expressed the unfortunate fact. The parliamentary speaker also stated it. This Parliament, which has a strong legitimacy and represents everyone and every movement of thought, should have done that.

I expressed my sorrow for the point we have reached. The process was extended, and I would be the happiest person if a Constitution could be made with conciliation. As a president, this would be the thing that I would mostly take pride in both in Turkey and abroad. If each party contributes to it, I will applaud and praise them.

How do you evaluate the phase of the withdrawal of the PKK militants?

The main goal here is to completely disarm an armed organization. If not, they will always remain as a threat. This [disarming] will also favor them. Like in the past, they could be manipulated out of their will. The vulnerability of this region is evident. It is necessary to initiate this work now. All sorts of works, including open and closed ones, are required. I have always expressed that it is essential to resort to all possible ways to get rid of terrorism.

Also, your expressions such as “The state is a Turkish state” and “constitutional citizenship” have stirred some debates. Can you explain these expressions?

Lately, I haven’t had any direct contact. But still, I know all the debates and subject matters. To be honest, it became the subject which I mostly pondered. I talked with all the political parties in due time.
Within the perspective of today’s modern concepts, it is clear that the state is a Turkish state. But if some citizens of the Turkish Republic say, “I am not ethnically Turk. But I am faithful to our state, I am loyal,” there is nothing to say in response.

The 1924 Constitution underlined citizenship, which means it respected all the citizens regardless of identity and ethnicity. The upsetting thing is that some problems arose since some practices went against the letter and spirit [of the 1924 Constitution].

The debates are focusing on two points [except amnesty]: Education in mother tongues and local administrations. How do you approach these matters?

They are all open to debate since they are not accurate things. Each of them has a limit. Formerly, [Kurdish] broadcasting could not be made, even the word [Kurd] could not be uttered. Needless to say, all these have gone away. They are only the results of the interim periods. At the point we have reached, we should deal with reasonable things. The thing that should be noted is making regulations that will improve everyone’s loyalty to the state, as it is in the most civilized and developed democracies. Also, in the long term, avoiding things that lead to disintegration is important...

I think it is possible to make a regulation which would integrate everyone in the country. It is valid for everything from the definition of citizenship to the authorities of local administrations. This is valid for Istanbul and İzmir. One should not think of only a certain region when local administrations are the subject matter.
In 2004, when I was in the Cabinet, a draft of Public Administration Reform was prepared in coherence, but eventually it was returned and became obsolete.

We can look at the picture through this framework. There are some points in the European Charter of Local Self-Government that could bring many comforts. We have some endorsements written on articles, but we do not recognize them in practice. Also, in practice we already went beyond some articles we objected. For example, two twin cities such as Istanbul and Lisbon can form some relations. Or the article that allows local governments to appeal to high courts… We also have endorsements about it; we provided this right in our implementations. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has appealed to the Constitutional Court for zoning matters. One should not be afraid of that.

The rest is cultural issues… All the cultural assets within the borders of the Turkish Republic belong to us. These assets could be both concrete and abstract. Language, literature, poems, poets… All of these are the realities of Turkey. Why not embrace them as we embrace Anatolian’s wealth dating back to ancient times? Why not embrace [famous Kurdish story] Mem û Zin?

This is possible even with the current Constitution. All these regulations should erase Turkey’s troubles above all. They should not support disintegration in the long run. Everyone must be careful about these matters. So, it is everyone’s duty to preserve national unity and integrity.

There is a discussion about a possible change in the Court of Accounts law. What do you think about it?

The Court of Accounts is a crucial subject. I made many contributions in enacting the law and put much emphasis on it when I was in the government. A modern state is one which can render accounts and be inspected in terms of all the spending made by public money. This is the fundamental principle of a state.

The latest law had a reformative quality. Formerly, the budgets of security units were not inspected. Thanks to this law, we can now inspect the spending of public money including the expenditures of the police, the intelligence and the armed forces. Each public sphere has gone under inspection. This was done by the Parliament, which is very important.

Of course there are some confidential subjects, such as arms and other stuff. But they have also some rules under inspection conditions. Actually, I wasn’t able to follow the latest discussions with regard to it.

The importance of the Court of Accounts could not be understood, even the court itself is not aware of it. Recently, I went to the court’s 144th anniversary, and I paid particularly attention to the speeches; no one in the Court of Accounts mentioned this. I said there that I was very surprised about it since it was the greatest reform law.

Some problems may stem from various implementations. If there are some regulations blocking the works and prolonging the bureaucratic process, they could be changed. If needed, a new regulation could be formed. But none of these must result in any harm to the main function of the Court of Accounts. The functions of this court cannot be limited. We need to look carefully at these balances. The Court of Accounts should be inspecting instead of being one that obstructs. Otherwise it would shackle the executive.

How could the constitutional and other developments in Turkey affect the country’s relations with the EU, which is currently suffering from an economic crisis? What might be the next steps in the Cyprus issue and other subjects?

The suspension of the EU process, or the negotiation process, is not because of Turkey, but the EU countries. EU countries are mainly responsible for that. Some developed countries, especially France, prevented the opening of some chapters by hiding behind the Cyprus issue. It stems from the lack of strategy within the EU countries. Of course we see the economic crisis in the EU but it has nothing to do with the blockage of the negotiation process.

Also, the negotiation process does not bring full membership, it only would result in a referendum, and political decisions will be made with regard to it. We are telling our counterparts not to block the process since it is not good for them, either. The country which completes the negotiations is the one which validates all the EU criteria in itself, such as Norway or Switzerland. Such a country does not suggest anything to be afraid of, instead, it should evoke feelings of joy. We are asking the French whether their companies would function better in a country where EU criteria are practiced or not. We tell them that they are actually harming themselves.

Of course there is a lack of motivation for us. When they did not open some chapters for inhibiting reasons, this is a prohibitive attitude. I think we would help our country if we behave as if we open or close the chapters by ourselves. The initiation of the negotiation process has made great contributions to the point Turkish economy has reached. Implementing the Maastricht and Copenhagen Criteria has made Turkey stronger. We will revive the process.