Did reforms stop in Turkey?

Published 20.05.2014 01:51
Updated 20.05.2014 02:05

Recently there has been a recurring claim that Turkey has stopped introducing new judicial and political reforms. Critics claim that the Turkish state has forsaken its reform agenda which it followed until the 2011 elections and wants to maintain the status quo that developed under its rule since 2002.

This is not true. Since 2010 the government has introduced a large number of new laws and regulations, all of which are either derived from the Copenhagen criteria or have been suggested by the EU since Turkey's accession talks began in 2005. These reforms have been supported by a large group of opinion makers, politicians and the public at large.

A cursory look at the list of reforms over the last three years reveals a steady trend. The referendum on Sept. 12, 2010 introduced the following changes:

-Children's rights were strengthened under the constitutional law
-The office of the Ombudsman gained constitutional status and began its work
-Members of Parliament were prevented from losing their status in the event their political party shuts down
-The right of individual application to the Constitutional Court was granted
-A Human Rights Committee was established to protect and improve human rights, prevent torture and maltreatment and train citizens and officials in the field of human rights
-Affirmative action for women was introduced into the Constitution. Stricter regulations were instituted to prevent violence against women and children
-The trial of army staff was allowed in civil courts for attempting to change the constitutional order or to stage a coup
-The National Climate Change Strategy Document and Action Plan were accepted In addition to these reforms, a number of steps were taken in regard to compulsory education, law governing political parties, protection of children, the Kurdish issue, the headscarf ban in public offices and the use of languages other than Turkish. Under the socalled "4+4+4 law," compulsory education in Turkey was extended to 12 years.
With the Democratization Package announced on Sept. 30 2013, the following measures were introduced:
-Political propaganda in languages other than Turkish was allowed and political campaigning in Kurdish and other languages was observed in the March 30 local elections
-The ban on the use of languages and dialects other than Turkish in private schools has been lifted. Several schools have already applied to offer education in Kurdish and other languages. Kurdish classes are being offered in the national curriculum
-Legal obstacles for villages to revert to former names in Kurdish and in other languages has been lifted
-Headscarves have been allowed in public offices including the Turkish Parliament.
Making use of the new regulation, several female cabinet members have chosen to wear the headscarf
-Languages other than Turkish can now be used in court trials if the defendants choose to do so
-Convicted persons in prison have been allowed to meet their spouses under special arrangements to spend more time with their families

As part of this package, two other important steps have been taken. The first is the return of the Mor Gabriel Monastery land in Mardin to the Assyrian Church. Apart from the Mor Gabriel Monastery land, other religious minorities have begun reclaiming their old properties which were lost or confiscated over the last 60 years.

The second step concerns the Romani citizens of Turkey. The Romani initiative, introduced in 2010, had already recognized the rights of Romani citizens. Now an Institute for the Study of Romani Language and Culture has been established to conduct research on the cultural heritage of Turkey's Romani citizens and address their social and economic needs.

In November 2013, the EU opened Chapter 22 for Turkey, which covers regional policy and key issues such as job creation, innovation, economic growth, sustainable development, competitiveness and improved quality of life.

In December 2013, Turkey signed the readmission agreement with the EU to start the process of visa liberalization for Turkish citizens.
Turkish citizens are expected to be able to travel to EU countries without a visa within the next four years.

On March 2, 2014, the government introduced a number of new measures against illegal wiretaps. Special courts with extraordinary powers, criticized by lawyers and human rights groups, have been abolished and the maximum 10-year sentences issued by special courts have been limited to five years. This has allowed a number of high-profile figures to be released after they have served rather unfairly long detention periods.

There are certainly more steps to be taken to meet the Copenhagen criteria and make Turkey an advanced democracy. But the claim that Turkey is no longer interested in reforms is simply not supported by the facts on the ground.

The fact is that the battle for a new Turkey continues unabated. The so-called Dec. 17 process turned into a coup attempt against the democratically elected government. It tested Turkey's strength economically and politically.

But Turkey has showed resilience and withstood the challenge. The government moved to make substantial changes in the judiciary and the security sectors to prevent misuse of judicial and police powers. The March 30 elections gave Turkey another chance for political stability and economic growth.

The desire to hit Turkey by all means and at all costs does not make for a good strategy.

Legitimate, constructive and result-oriented criticism should be welcomed. Turkey's reform agenda should be kept above petty politics.

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