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Turkey told ‘buy a ticket’ — repeal 301 8 octobre 2007

Posted by Acturca in Academic / Académique, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey), 8 October 2007by Andrew Finkel

There is the old saw about the man who prayed to God every day to win the lottery. Years went by. His patience wore thin until one day it finally it snapped.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn abandoned all pretense of diplomacy and resorted to a Nordic expletive in urging Turkey to stop making excuses about its inability to get on with political reform.

The man shook his arm angrily at the heavens. « I am a good man, I pray every day. Lord, why have you forsaken me? » Then it happened. The dark clouds parted, a ray of ethereal light filtered down to the spot where he stood and a deep voice boomed out from above. « Give me a chance. Buy a ticket! » Similar advice is now being offered to Turkey in the attempt to keep the momentum in its EU application bid.

« It has to give ammunition to its friends, » advised one senior diplomat attending the weekend’s Bosphorus Conference organized by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), the British Council and the Centre for European Reform (CER). It has to repeal Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which notoriously makes insulting Turkishness a crime. It was this statute which was used in the recent prosecutions of murdered newspaper editor Hrant Dink and prominent authors like Orhan Pamuk.

There were other themes in roundtable discussions, ranging from energy to Turkey’s role in the Middle East. However the real theme of a meeting entitled « EU and Turkey: Drifting Apart? » was how to arrest the inertia which had settled over the accession process. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt acknowledged the difficulty in Turkey’s appearing to be seen acting under pressure from Brussels at a time when major EU members were openly trying to sideline Ankara’s application. He comforted his audience by recounting how France tried to discourage his own country’s candidacy, let alone how it said « non » twice to British membership in the 1960s. Former French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou, too, announced that there was still a body of public opinion in France that believed Europe has to prove itself capable of embracing a country like Turkey. However, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn abandoned all pretense of diplomacy and resorted to a Nordic expletive at dinner in urging Turkey to stop making excuses about its inability to get on with political reform.

There was some puzzlement among the conference goers as to why the government, with its handsome mandate in the July 22 elections, had decided that its immediate priority (after it had elected the new president) had been to go on its summer holiday. The political capital it had earned would be quickly squandered if it decided to sit on its hands. Nor could it understand why a statute that had caused so much embarrassment to Turkey in its dealings with Europe had not been repealed yesterday.

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan tried to reassure his audience that the EU process remained « at the very core of Turkish foreign policy. » Article 301 had acquired undeserved fame when there was a slew of other legislation, he painfully confessed, which the courts in Turkey use to restrict freedom of speech. But he won few plaudits in suggesting that the alteration of 301 accompany the promulgation of a new, more liberal constitution. Turkey could not wait that long, he was told. Article 301 was the idol in the temple and the one that had to be smashed.

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