All paths lead to Europe

All paths lead to Europe

Which institution in the Western world has the biggest influence on Turkey?

After the third justice reform passed in the Parliament the answer to this question became the Council of Europe and its essential component, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

A significant part of the arrangements done within the framework of this package can be regarded as the direct outcome of the visits of Thomas Hammarberg, the previous Commissioner for the Human Rights Council of Europe and Thorbjorn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, to Turkey in 2011.

Hammarberg’s visits started last year upon the mass arrests of journalists and were concluded with him writing two separate reports which drew attention to the systematic problems in Turkey’s justice system as well as severely criticized the mentality of those in the courts.

New dialogue with the ECHR
The solution process was triggered by the workshop titled “ECHR’s Turkey Verdicts: Problems and Proposals for Solutions” held in Ankara in November of last year with the participation of Jagland.
There were two issues that lay behind the thought of organizing such a workshop. The first was that Turkey was the champion of convictions in the ECHR and the second thought was the ever increasing complaints filed against the country. At the time, Turkey was creating an enormous work load on the court.

The significance of the Ankara workshop was that for the first time Turkey sat at a table with the ECHR and entered into a dialogue on how to prevent these violation verdicts. At the meeting Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said, “Problems which cause the verdicts on violations will be determined, proposals for eliminating them will be developed and these studies will be transformed into a motion to be send to the Parliament.”

Convergence to European Law
This commitment was not limited to the Council of Europe and was reiterated to the European Union (EU) and EU governments. In the meantime, the justice reform as it is transformed into a benchmark testing the relationship between Turkey and the Western world and at the same the credibility of the government.

Even though an up and down path was followed in the Parliament the third justice package passed exactly seven and a half months after Ergin pledged Jagland in Ankara on Nov. 16, 2011.

The strategic dimension of the reform package is that it has introduced several frameworks that would prevent the violation verdicts ECHR rules against Turkey. From that aspect, Turkey has kept its promises in the action plan it has submitted to the CoE to prevent the repetition of violations.

The amendments introduced have brought the legal framework in Turkey, including the detention regime, nearer to the European law system by reformatting it. The real problem is the question whether or not this radical change in the legislation will be completed in practice with a transformation to a new format in the mentalities of the members of the justice.

Ergin and the reform line
Ergin’s distinctive role in reaching this outcome needs to be acknowledged. The fact he made the reform he had pledged he would will surely strengthen Ergin’s position before the Western world and will affect the tone of the country’s new progress report issued by the EU next fall.

However, the deal is not done yet in regards to this package. There are many steps to be taken in the sense of harmonizing with ECHR verdicts. For this reason, it will be necessary to continue with a fourth justice package from where the third left off as soon as the Parliament ends their recess in the beginning of October.

Another important result of this exercise is that the government has demonstrated a strong will, showing that it does not wish to break away from Europe. Another valuable outcome we should derive from this process is the verification of how effective the “soft power” of the ECHR is over the countries subject to its self-enforcement system.

We don’t know whether late President Turgut Özal had foreseen that the ECHR would one day gain such an influence over Turkey in 1987 when he endorsed the individual right to petition to the court. However, he would no doubt have been extremely happy to see this.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on July 11. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.