One of the leading Socialists in the European Parliament said their “honeymoon” with the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government depended on the constitution. Libor Roucek, the vice chairman of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament responsible for enlargement, argued that the good relationship between the EU and the AK Party was now dependent “to a large extent” on the new constitution that is being worked on in the Turkish Parliament.
In an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman, Roucek said the real “litmus test” for the AK Party would be the new constitution, which the European Commission said in its progress report in October could be a recipe for the solution of the decades-old problems of Turkey. “We will see if the process is open, democratic and inclusive and includes all segments of Turkish civil society, and if we have a liberal democratic constitution at the end of the process on which all major political forces agree,” stressed Roucek. He added that they would see the real intentions of the governing party in general but also their position on the place of religion in society.
Roucek made it clear that he was not happy with the kind of reaction the AK Party displayed vis-à-vis the progress report of the European Commission, which was released on Oct. 10. He stressed overreactions would give the impression that Turkey was no longer interested in the EU. “Criticism yes, but it should not be that harsh. If you criticize so strongly, it gives the impression that Turkey is not interested in the EU anymore,” said the Socialist politician. The European Commission in its progress report last month harshly criticized the lack of progress in fundamental rights and freedoms in acceding candidate Turkey.
On their sister party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Roucek said they were in permanent contact with the party on issues like the constitution but added that they would like to see a “CHP that is more open to Europe and to liberal democracy.”
Criticizing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s speech in the AK Party congress during which he did not refer to the EU at all, Roucek said it was neither helpful to Turkey nor the EU. “We are neighbors, strategic partners and want cooperation at all levels, whether it is financial, cultural or political — you name it. It does not send good signals if the prime minister in such a crucial speech does not mention the EU,” said Roucek, but also noted that it was no surprise Turks became disappointed and more skeptical after waiting 50 years for membership.
THY is a symbol
In an interesting analogy, Roucek said Turkey was doing very well economically compared to Greece and even the EU as exemplified in the rise of Turkish Airlines (THY) in the last 10 years. According to the Socialist politician, Turkey “is becoming not only a regional but a global player as well in many ways.” However, he implied that the impression of overconfidence Turkey has given to many outsiders was not helpful.
“The influence of Turkey is growing, exemplified by THY — where it was 10 years ago, where it is now. It is becoming a global company. Turkey is becoming not only a regional but also a global player in many ways. I still think we should join forces; we should not compete against each other,” said Roucek.
Turkey a dream for many in Middle East
Despite the debate that Turkey has lost its attractiveness as a model because of her domestic problems, Roucek said the debate was still relevant and stressed that the Turkish model was a dream for many young people from Morocco to even non-Arab nations like Iran. “Turkey is a source of inspiration and in many ways a role model: A country that can combine the Islamic religion with democracy in a secular way, a country where you have democracy. Its democracy is not perfect and has many deficiencies, but overall the country is democratic where the public administration functions effectively, where the economy produces and the population benefits from it. That is the dream for many young people from Morocco perhaps even to non-Arab countries like Iran,” emphasized Roucek. In the case of Egypt, however, Roucek said Turkey could be viewed both as a source of inspiration but also as a competitor in the Muslim world.