Ayşe Sözen Usluer, head of the Presidency's Foreign Relations Department, said there might be a referendum about the future of our relations after April 16, as President Erdoğan suggested, and she underlined that Turkey no longer has the luxury to keep such foreign policy issues waiting and she stressed that now is the time to reevaluate the EU process. At the same time Usluer stressed that regardless of membership, Turkey is an organic part of Europe and she underlined that the U.K. is still a part of the Western alliance, and despite leaving the EU, the same will be true for Turkey.
Responding to question whether Turkey considers the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) membership as an alternative, Usluer emphasized that Turkey sees the SCO as an alternative for neither NATO nor EU while she added that Turkey is a country that diversifies its foreign policy and employs its capacity.
Commenting on U.S Secretary of State Tillerson's recent visit to Ankara Usluer said that his visit that took place prior to the NATO Foreign Ministers summit was a strong sign about Turkish-U.S NATO alliance while underlining that Tillerson was reserved at the joint meeting held on Thursday. Usluer believes that this is an indication that the new U.S. administration is inexperienced about regional issues.
Touching upon the upcoming referendum that will take place on April 16, Usluer said if the reform passes the referendum, then Turkey transitions into presidential system and Turkey's profile will become more powerful and stable.
Daily Sabah: How do you evaluate U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to Turkey? Do you believe that the two NATO allies will be able to overcome their differences in issues about YPG and FETÖ?
Ayşe Sözen Usluer: When you have different approaches, keeping the diplomatic channels open and making negotiations are important. In this respect, I find Tillerson's visit to Turkey a day before the NATO Foreign Ministers Summit in Brussels on Friday. It's a strong sign about our NATO alliance. As Tillerson expressed during the press meeting, Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and People's Protection Units (YPG) issues were discussed. The YPG's affiliate the PKK and FETÖ are two terrorist organizations that attacked the Turkish state and people, killing civilians. Turkey continues to provide information, documents and data to the U.S. about these illegal organizations. We expect cooperation from the U.S. on these issues.
Similarly, we continuously provide documents and information about FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen to the U.S. for his extradition from the U.S. The U.S. government stated that this is a legal process, which means that Gülen could be extradited when the process concludes. Still, we believe there might be a political decision to take Gülen into custody or house arrest.
On the other hand, I see that FETÖ is losing ground all around the world. Even though they try to show themselves active in the international community through perception management, they lost substantial operational power. The organization is treated with suspicion now. For instance, the Foreign Relations Commission of Parliament in the U.K. published a report, in which it is clearly stated that Gülenists were behind the July 15 coup attempt. Moreover, it was expressed that almost all of the different social segments in Turkey believed that this was a Gülenist coup attempt. The consistency of people's belief that Gülenists were behind the coup is suggested to be a valid evidence against FETÖ.
Apart from all of these, Gülenist schools are facing closure, especially in Africa. They were closed down in Nigeria and Sudan, while Madagascar is working on it. We can see that FETÖ is losing its power all around the world. FETÖ also has lost trust of many in the U.S., as their charter schools were engaged in illegal financial activities.
DS: Do you believe Turkey and the U.S. will be able to resolve their differences about the YPG in the near future?
A.S.U.: The U.S. heavily arming the YPG is unacceptable to Turkey. Even though the U.S. sees the YPG as an actor to defeat Daesh on the field, it's not possible to defeat a terrorist organization with another. There can't be a hierarchy among terrorist organizations; you can't say one is worse than the other. The U.S. administration always makes these kinds of mistakes in the Middle East. I expect the new administration to come up with a new perspective about this issue. As far as I was able to observe, Tillerson was reserved at the joint meeting held on Thursday. This is an indication that the new U.S. administration is inexperienced about regional issues. Therefore, they see their alliance with Turkey important.
DS: How do you evaluate Turkish ministers not being allowed to realize their programs in Germany and the Netherlands?
First and foremost, it's a violation against democracy and freedoms. Turkish ministers wanted to visit European countries to reach out to their electorate in Europe. Campaigning is an important aspect of elections, which is the most basic principle of democracy. Hence, by blocking these campaigns, you are harming democracy. This also means that our citizens in Europe were stripped off one of their basic rights, which is the right to be informed. As a politician, you have to inform your citizens about the proposed changes; this is one of the basic principles of democracy. The "yes" campaign is barred from Europe. On the other hand, European politicians and the terrorist organization the PKK are free to campaign for "no." Moreover, they are allowed to use a banner that said "Kill Erdoğan" during these campaigns. I believe that the gun pointed to Erdoğan's temple on the banner is actually pointed at European values. When President Erdoğan said they [Europeans] won't be able to walk safely on the streets, he was meaning this. If you give way to terrorism, you yourself will eventually face the same terror.
When we look at the EU, we can see that it is in decline. Similarly, some global values such as the liberal international system are in decline. President Trump's xenophobic and Islamophobic remarks, along with rising racism and far-right movements indicate that the liberal international system is in a downward spiral. In parallel with this, introversive policies are also on the rise. While all of these were happening, no one mentioned about how to shape the international system, as it is in the case of Brexit with only bilateral relations being emphasized. However, global and regional organizations like the U.N., G20, NATO, and the EU were formed to convey peace and prosperity for all and they made policies to improve these aspects. We were trying to improve these organizations for the better by adding more dimensions to them. I know we have seen the failure of many policies but, nevertheless, it is our duty to better these organizations. It's not right to ignore the fact that the world is more interconnected than ever. Currently, the only reformist proposal is made by President Erdoğan: the "World is bigger than five."
DS: After these events, could we say that the EU is no longer a model for Turkey?
Europe is in an existential crisis. On one hand there is human rights and equality, which they deem to be global values, while on the other hand, there is rising racism, xenophobia, and anti-Islam notions. Their crisis is due to these two contradicting mindsets. Scapegoating Turkey during this crisis is a lowly attempt to avoid facing the real issue. It can also be regarded as a psychological projection of guilt.
In this regard, I believe we should reexamine our relations with the EU. However, in reality, it is the EU that has to evaluate itself and make important decisions about its own future. Brexit becoming a precedent, possibly triggering a domino effect which may result in other exits, creates fear within the EU. The president of the European Commission asking Trump to not emphasize Brexit is actually a sign of this fear. The EU has to decide first what kind of a model it is going to be for its member countries, rather than Turkey. Regarding Turkish-EU relations, there might be a referendum about the future of our relations after April 16, as President Erdoğan suggested.
DS: Do you believe Turkish-EU relations are at a crossroads?
A.S.U.: Turkey has been employing democratization for the past 15 years and April 16 will be a new milestone in Turkey's democratization journey. If the referendum passes, there will be a change in the system of government of Turkey. The aim of this change is to get rid of cumbersome mechanisms and establish fast decision making mechanisms that are centered on consultation.
We have been waiting at the gates of the EU for more than 50 years. We have been negotiating since 2005. Even though these negotiations are highly technical processes, the issue is that this technical process was blocked for political reasons. In reality, Turkey was at a level to become a full EU member within two to three years from the start of the negotiations. However, the process has been in suspension for 12 years. Turkey no longer has the luxury to keep such foreign policy issues waiting. You have to conclude your issues swiftly to focus on new ones and the renewed Turkey will exactly do this.
I believe now is the time to reevaluate the EU process. From readmission agreements to customs union, all must be reexamined. I expect all relations with the EU will be reconsidered.
DS: Some allege that Turkey will leave behind Western values and Western democracy model, if it doesn't continue its EU bid. How would you respond to these allegations?
I believe EU played an important role in Turkey's democratization and I also believe that Turkey has to become a full member of the EU. The current government has the same belief. Looking back at the early 2000s, Turkey realized substantial reforms. If today the relations are at a breakaway point, it's not because of Turkey is cross with the EU or the suspension of relations- it's due to the EU losing its principles about democracy, freedom and law. Moreover, on the contrary to the EU, these principles are on the rise in Turkey and they are embraced by a larger mass. We have seen this clearly on July 15: Civilians faced guns, tanks and bombs without anything in their hands. They took action not to save Erdoğan himself, but to preserve democracy.
On the other hand, looking at examples in the EU, they're losing all the gains of democracy. For instance, your publication Daily Sabah's circulation in the European Parliament was banned. We have clearly seen those who accuse us with preventing the freedom of press are doing it themselves. What our minister of family and social policies experienced during the Netherlands crisis is another example for it. They have barred the same freedom of mobility they have created. Even though they are seemingly in a dilemma of security and freedom, there weren't any existing threats to their security. How could a sole minister cause a security issue? Or how could Turkish citizens living in the Netherlands cause a security issue? They have never caused any disruptions to social order before, during or after this crisis, mind you. Using security concerns as an excuse to violate basic rights or even completely suspend them shows that we should reevaluate our relations with them.
DS: As the future of relations with the EU are being questioned, some are suggesting that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an alternative. What is your take on this subject?
Turkey sees the SCO as an alternative for neither NATO nor the EU. I don't believe that we are in an age where we have to choose between the SCO and the EU. On the contrary, I think that Turkey is a country that diversifies its foreign policy and employs its capacity. Turkey is definitely one of the countries that has benefited most from the multipolar system that emerged at the end of Cold War. The SCO is one of the examples of the diversification of foreign policy.
DS: In what ways will the Turkish foreign policy be affected, if the constitutional reform passes on the April 16 referendum?
If the reform passes the referendum, hence Turkey transitions into a presidential system, Turkey's profile will become more powerful and stable. The reform foresees a model that is closer to Western democracies. For instance, the number of members of the constitutional court is being decreased to 15, cutting the two slots reserved for the military. On the other hand, the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors will change. Four members will be appointed by the president, while seven will be appointed by the parliament. The remaining two members will be the minister of justice and the undersecretary of the ministry of justice. In Sweden, all 11 members are appointed by the government, while in Spain, all members are appointed by the king with the advice of the parliament. Some are trying to present it as if there will be an intervention to the judiciary, however, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors is an administrative unit and there's nothing more natural than its members being appointed by the elected. On the contrary to these allegations, the separation of powers are being consolidated.
Similarly, the increase in the numbers of deputies to 600 is about the changing population of Turkey and it is important for better representation of the people. On the other hand, the age of candidacy will be decreased to 18, as we believe a person who can cast a vote should be also allowed to become a candidate since they are tax paying citizens at that age. This is the case in almost all countries of the world and, moreover, we believe in our youth. The April 16 referendum is an opportunity for Turkey to reform certain obsolete components of its democracy.
Regarding Turkish foreign policy, Turkey has been successfully employing its soft power and will continue to do so. Today's world requires the usage of both hard and soft powers and Turkey is successful in both. Turkish military units within the NATO Peacekeeping Force easily won the hearts of the local populace due to their humane approaches. As a last note, I would like to say that I hope the referendum will serve our nation and state well.