EU awaits Venice Commission report on Turkey’s charter changes

EU awaits Venice Commission report on Turkey’s charter changes

Turkey is in a process of undergoing one of its historically most important changes, as the government bids to shift from the current parliamentary system to an executive presidency through an 18-article constitutional amendment. Following the approval of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and an announcement in the Official Gazette, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) will disclose the date for the referendum, the result of which will be final and decisive. 

Turkish politics today seems to be divided into two parts: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are in support of the changes, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are against the system shift. While the former two parties argue that the new system will introduce a more stable and dynamic governance, the latter two claim that it will only bring about one-man rule as the proposed model weakens checks and balances. 

The EU is closely following the legislative process and the ongoing debate between two opposing sides but it is refraining from outlining its position on the proposed changes. One of the major reasons is the fact that the EU regards an attempt to change governance system in a member or candidate country as a legal and politically justifiable move, as each and every country is free to choose its own model. At the end of the day, the will of the Turkish people, reflected through the ballot box, will be decisive. 

Having said that, the EU will wait for a detailed report by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which will scrutinize in detail Turkey’s constitutional amendments. However, the Commission’s report is not expected to be ready before mid-March. It is anticipated that the Venice Commission will likely focus on the extent to which the principle of separation of powers is preserved, and whether the new system will introduce effective checks and balances. 

However, apart from the content of the package, European countries are looking at some other issues as well. One of them is the fact that the government never sought any sort of advice or cooperation with the EU on drafting these changes, unlike the 2010 constitutional amendments that overhauled the judicial system. At that time, the government worked with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the result of the referendum was regarded as a “step in the right direction,” addressing a number of priorities of the Accession Partnership in the area of the judiciary, fundamental rights and public administration. 

So these latest constitutional changes will be analyzed by the EU in terms of the extent to which they fulfill required criteria in the aforementioned areas. 
Another dimension that the EU is looking at is how the continued state of emergency rule will have an impact on the campaign process and conducting the referendum in early April. Although there is no legal restriction to holding elections under the state of emergency, the EU will examine whether all political parties and civil society groups can exercise their rights to assembly and to hold rallies without any restriction. 

Of course, another important point is the deteriorated security conditions in Turkey and the fact that terror organizations could use this highly politicized and polarized environment to stage new acts of terror. The EU is also assessing the process from the security perspective and how that will affect the referendum process in Turkey.   

Obviously, this whole process will complicate any efforts – already very unlikely - from both sides to accomplish the unfinished “visa liberalization and Readmission Agreement” process. That is, of course, if German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not pull a new proposal for the effective continuation of the migrant deal between Turkey and the EU out of her hat during her upcoming visit to Ankara later this week.