Turkey should be ready for a tough Council of Europe report on charter changes

Turkey should be ready for a tough Council of Europe report on charter changes

If there are no last-minute changes, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission is expected to release its report on Turkey’s constitutional amendment package on March 13.

The Venice Commission, an advisory board of constitutional law experts, was tasked with scrutinizing the 18-article package by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). The report will be important as it will provide a professional, outside analysis of the package’s content. 

According to German media outlets, reporting a draft version, the report says the proposed changes to the constitution will place Turkey “on the road to an autocracy and a one-person regime.” It also criticizes Turkey for undertaking such significant changes under the state of emergency, German media reported. 

Turkey’s initial reaction to the Venice Commission has not been delayed. After parts of the report were leaked to the German media, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was quick to slam the Venice Commission for preparing such a report, for not advising while the changes were being debated in parliament, and for leaking it to the media. 

“The meaning of the preparation of this report and its presentation to the Council of Europe is to affect the referendum process in Turkey, to encourage people to say ‘No’ in the referendum,” Bozdağ said.      

This swift reaction, even before the release of the report, gives an idea of what the Turkish government’s response will be once the long and comprehensive report is made public. There are unconfirmed reports that Ankara has requested the suspension of the release of the report. 

The report will be important from a number of perspectives: 

1. It will provide an important asset for the opposition camp’s “No” campaigning. The Venice Commission is a well-known advisory board of the Council of the Europe, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) sought its cooperation in previous referendums, notably in the 2010 constitutional change referendum. It will therefore be hard for the government to challenge the Commission’s work, while the opposition will be able to reinforce its argument that the constitutional amendments might end up leading to one-man rule. 

2. The AKP government has already voiced its disturbance with the report through Bozdağ’s statement. After the release of the report, we should expect an even louder and harsher response, amid accusations that the whole of Europe is working against the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

3. The real significance of the report is that it will also be used as a basis for some EU countries and Turkey-skeptic political parties in their renewed attempts to completely freeze Ankara’s EU accession process, with Turkey derailed from its path to fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria if the amendments are approved on April 16. With the process having long soured due to democratic deficiencies in Turkey, the approval of the package would also let these countries revive their archaic rhetoric on excluding Turkey from the enlargement process.