Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where next for Turkey?

By Katinka Barysch and Charles Grant

Some of Turkey’s critics say that it has no place in the EU because it is not a European country. Others criticise the quality of its democracy. The first group tends to focus on the Islamist philosophy of the ruling AK party, while the second group complains about the role of the armed forces in public life. The dramatic series of events in Turkey over the past four months should go some way towards reassuring both camps.

In April, the armed forces threatened the AKP over its choice of Abdullah Gul as its presidential candidate. The constitutional court declared the first round of voting in the parliament invalid. Millions marched in the streets in defence of secularism. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called an early election to defuse the crisis. His AK party won enough votes to form another single-party government.

These events show that Turkey’s democracy is maturing fast. Having hinted that it might launch a coup, the army has respected the democratic process and stayed in its barracks. The AKP won voters’ confidence by promoting a moderate brand of Islamism, and by adding more secular candidates and women to its electoral list. Celebrating his re-election, a statesman-like Erdogan called for reconciliation, reform and universal respect for Turkey’s secular constitution.

Erdogan will need all his considerable political skills to get through the challenges of the next twelve months. The election outcome was good for the AKP but it showed a country split down the middle. With 47 per cent of the vote, the AKP did significantly better than in 2002. Then, much of its support was due to voters’ disillusionment with a bickering and self-serving political establishment. This time round, its victory was a reward for good economic management and – despite the occasional backtracking – political moderation.

Some 38 per cent of Turkish voters opted for nationalist parties, if one adds up the votes of the hard-line MHP, the nominally centre-left CHP and Cem Uzan’s radical GP. There is little that unites these parties, apart from their attempts to portray the AKP as radical on Islam and limp-wristed on security. But the scare tactics of the secular establishment and the army obviously failed to convince most Turks.

Three of the 14 parties that ran in the election overcame the 10 per cent vote threshold for parliamentary representation; in the previous parliament it was only the AKP and the CHP. Now they are being joined by 71 MHP members and 28 ‘independents’, most of whom are from the Kurdish party, the DTP. So although the AKP received a higher share of the vote than in 2002, it will have fewer seats in parliament. With 342 MPs, the AKP still has enough votes to pass laws, but not to change the constitution or, importantly, elect a new president.

Turkey will hold a referendum on an AKP proposal to move the presidential election from the parliament to the people, but not until the autumn. So the next president will once again be chosen by Turkey’s 550 MPs. Two-thirds (or 367) of them need to be present to make the first round of voting valid, following a constitutional court ruling in April. If the CHP and the MHP boycotted the presidential ballot to prevent an AKP candidate winning, there would probably be another early election. Erdogan might try to push through his candidate with the help of the ‘independents’. But then the army would decry an Islamist-Kurdish conspiracy and roll back onto the political scene. It will not be easy to find a candidate that looks acceptable to both the secular-nationalist opposition and the more conservative parts of the AKP. But Erdogan should be able to do it. He may placate his own AKP by hinting that he could himself stand in the first popular presidential poll. If, as seems likely, Erdogan finds a compromise presidential candidate, he would undermine the army’s claim that Turkey’s secular order is under threat.

The AKP also faces tricky decisions over Iraq. It was perhaps no coincidence that General Yasar Buyukanit, Turkey’s army chief, asked for a mandate to take action against outposts of Kurdish PKK guerrillas in Northern Iraq, just a few months before the election. The government had little choice but to say No. Such cross-border incursions would wreck what is already a tense relationship with Washington and create considerable strains with the EU. And then there is the risk of the military getting bogged down in a prolonged guerrilla war on foreign territory. Nevertheless, the army’s persistent hectoring made the government look weak on the security front, and probably helped to increase the MHP’s share of the vote. If the PKK is sufficiently provocative – for example letting off big bombs in tourist resorts – the government would have little choice but to endorse a military intervention.

Once the presidential election is out of the way, the new government will have to get down to work. The AKP gets a lot of its legitimacy from its impressive economic record. Markets jumped with joy over the AKP’s re-election. But the government now faces the tricky task of putting its reform successes on a more sustainable footing. This will include continued privatisation (not least to attract the money to finance a current-account deficit that hit a worrying 8 per cent of GDP last year); an overhaul of social security; further improvements in the budget; better infrastructure (two million people a year are moving from the rural areas into already overcrowded cities) and labour market reforms. In this young country, around a quarter of a million jobs need to be created every year, just to keep the unemployment rate constant at 10 per cent.

The AKP will have to navigate these tricky waters at a time when the EU anchor has become loser. Nicolas Sarkozy has vetoed the opening of the chapter on economic and monetary union in Turkey’s accession negotiations, because he says that only full members need to bother with single currency rules. And Turkey, he claims, will not achieve that status so long as he is president. He wants the EU have another big debate about the future boundaries of Europe in December. His views on that are clear.

Erdogan is to be congratulated for his measured response to Sarkozy’s tactics. In the past, Turkish politicians often warned that EU wavering would result in a nationalist backlash and political instability in Turkey. But now Erdogan’s government is promising to soldier on with its EU preparations. “We will be ready in 2014”, he says, “irrespective of what the EU does”.

Much of the AKP’s positive agenda since 2002 has been inspired by the objective of EU accession. The party’s pro-EU credentials helped it to mitigate the deep suspicions it encountered among the urban elites. What would happen to the AKP’s reform plans and its legitimacy if Sarkozy succeeded in ruling out Turkey’s full membership? The new government needs the EU anchor to consolidate its successes.

Katinka Barysch is chief economist and Charles Grant is the Director of Centre for European Reform

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Of mice, men and the language of EU reform

by Hugo Brady

Beware the humourless, especially in politics. At a CER/Clifford Chance conference last week, Guiliano Amato, Italy’s interior minister, pronounced that the Reform Treaty was a return to familiar territory for the EU: an unreadable treaty. A few refused to get the joke, portraying Amato’s playful observation as an explosive revelation that the Reform Treaty is indeed the EU constitution encrypted. ("Loathsome smugness", seethes Open Europe’s blog).

How odd. The conference was clearly on the record and Amato's warmly ironic tone was anything but pompous. But Open Europe also missed the bigger point in Amato’s speech: his admission that we never had a real constitution to start with. Amato, a widely admired statesman and former prime minister, was vice-chair of the convention that first wrote the EU constitution in 2003. The convention, he said, had wrongly dressed up a set of fairly good ideas, designed to make the EU’s institutions, foreign and justice policies work better, as being something it was not: a grand constitution.

The governments stuck with the name ‘constitution’ in the hope, rather than the expectation, that it might grab the attention of citizens and make the EU more popular. But according to Amato, the document was always much more a ‘boy’ than a ‘girl’, referring to the French words ‘le traité’ (masculine) and ‘la constitution’ (feminine). This reflects the nature of the EU itself, which Amato christened a "hermaphrodite": not merely an inter-governmental organisation but far from being a state.

True, much of proposed Reform Treaty is to be taken from the wreck of the so-called constitution. But, aside from the name, other controversial aspects are being amended or dropped: there are about 20 significant changes in all. The new treaty will be completely stripped of any pretensions to be a US constitution-style founding charter. As the communications commissioner, Margot Wallström, who also addressed the conference, quipped: mice are genetically 90 per cent identical to human beings "but the remaining ten per cent makes all the difference".

Nonetheless language, legal and otherwise, matters in the European debate. Hence the outcry over Sarkozy’s deletion of a key reference to ‘undistorted competition’ from the new treaty or Commission president Barroso’s well-intentioned, but foolish, description of the EU as a new "non-imperial empire" (a misnomer in any case: a non-empire empire?). And now, when just about everyone else has finally accepted that the idea of a constitution for Europe is dead, British Eurosceptics cling to the term in a bid to pressure the government into holding a referendum.

Why? Sovereignty is hardly the issue. Sir Stephen Wall, another keynote speaker last Thursday, noted the British are blasé, in contrast with their European counterparts, on key issues of sovereignty like trade liberalisation and foreign ownership of industry. The thought of foreigners owning home-grown car industries makes continental politicians shiver; the British care little. Neither can it be a reaction to British politicians and diplomats having failed to defend national interests the negotiations on the treaty. Peter Altmaier, a minister in Angela Merkel's government, rather ruefully outlined to the conference how the UK had won the most from the three negotiations leading to this treaty: the convention, the 2004 inter-governmental conference on the constitution, and the recent June summit.

No, Eurosceptics here hope a referendum on Europe will be the beginning of the disengagement from the EU they long for. A referendum would be the perfect political arena to portray issues like the role of EU foreign policy or the primacy of EU law as an affront to British sovereignty and awake fears of what Hugh Gaitskill, a former Labour leader, famously called “the end of a thousand years of history”.

In the past, well meaning pro-Europeans and commentators have also called for a referendum in Britain on the EU, as a way of challenging the orthodoxies of the British European debate. This is wrong-headed. Yes, Gordon Brown should encourage passionate debate on Britain’s interests in Europe. But if he fails to stand firm against calls for a referendum, he risks opening a Pandora's box of obfuscation and media-fed nationalism, as well as handing a platform to fringe political forces from across the UK. (I exaggerate? Read Frederick Forsythe's "Pledge a referendum on Europe Mr Cameron", FT July 16th.) To paraphrase Gaitskill's wife, as she listened to the standing ovation elicited by his famous speech: a British referendum on Europe would make all the wrong people cheer.

Hugo Brady is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The EU should talk to Hamas

by Charles Grant and Clara O’Donnell

The conspicuous role of Hamas in the recent release of Alan Johnston was not only good news for the BBC correspondent. Hamas showed that it cares about how it is perceived abroad, that it wants to be considered a credible actor, and that it hopes to end its international isolation. This means that the EU and other outsiders have potential leverage over the organisation that rules Gaza. Several European governments believe that the Union should rethink its current policy of refusing to engage with Hamas. They argue, with much justice, that the attempt to weaken Hamas by isolating it has failed; and that this policy seems to have strengthened support for Hamas among Palestinians, while Fatah, its great rival, has suffered from being seen as the West’s favoured friend.

It is time for the EU to consider talking directly to Hamas. Currently, the position of the EU – alongside the other members of the quartet, the UN, the US and Russia – is that it will not talk unless three conditions are met: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and acceptance of existing peace accords. And there remain many good arguments against the EU engaging with this Islamic group, such as its ambition for Islamic rule, its refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist, its links to violence and terror, and its numerous rocket attacks on Israelis. Although it won the last Palestinian elections, Hamas used force to seize power in Gaza in June 2007. That episode damaged its international credibility and its legitimacy as a winner of democratic elections, and it also limited the chances of getting Hamas and Fatah to work together constructively. Without a single government accepted as legitimate by most Palestinians, Israel has no partner to make peace with.

However, the EU should take note of some conciliatory moves from Hamas since it won the elections in January 2006. Hamas respected a unilateral ceasefire for six months. And when it became part of the government of national unity that was brokered by Saudi diplomacy at Mecca, Hamas tacitly accepted the Palestinian Authority’s existing international agreements. Furthermore, while Hamas has still not officially recognised Israel, its leader in Damascus, Khaled Meshaal, has said that the state of Israel is a "reality" and that “there will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact”. At the moment Hamas is clearly not the kind of credible international actor that could be a serious partner for Israel; the argument is over the best way to turn it into such actor. And it is clear that the current policy is not working.

The EU should recognise that the policy of boycotting of Hamas but showering favours on Fatah in the West Bank has been at best ineffectual, and at worst it has contributed to radicalising Hamas and provoking Fatah’s overthrow in Gaza. The grim gap that now separates the two parts of Palestine is imposing unacceptable humanitarian costs – the Gaza economy is already in a dire state, largely because Israel closes most of the border crossings most of the time. So long as the EU continues to reject the outcome of legitimately-conducted elections, it exposes itself to accusations of double standards and reduces its credibility in the eyes of the many in the Arab world.

The EU should seek to entice the moderate elements in Hamas with the prospect of recognition and financial assistance, in exchange for good behaviour and a constructive attitude towards talks with Fatah. That could facilitate the return of a single government for all the Palestinian territories, which is a precondition for the revival of the peace process. The EU should not abandon the concept of conditionality, but of the three conditions the one it should worry about is the renunciation of violence. Were Hamas to return to suicide bombs or rocket attacks on Israel, the EU should have nothing to do with it.

Of course, there can be no peace in the region without the support of Israel and the US, both of which are strongly opposed to the recognition of Hamas. The EU must think very carefully about how it sells a new policy on Hamas to Israel and the United States. The ultimate goal in the Middle East is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and if EU engagement with Hamas leads to a breakdown in the Union’s relations with Israel and the US, it will have achieved little. But the EU has a very strong argument to make. In the long term, it is in Israel’s interests that the moderate elements within Hamas – the strongest political entity in Palestine – be strengthened. Talks between the EU and Hamas could and should focus on that objective. The very process of talks with Hamas could have a transformational effect on the organisation, as was the case with the talks between the British government and the Irish Republican Army. Evidently, the talks might not produce that positive outcome. But neither the US nor Israel can claim that the status quo is doing much to enhance the security of Israelis.

The US, in its current pre-election phase, will be very reluctant to contemplate talking to Hamas. But in the Bush administration – which does not have to worry about winning votes in the next presidential election – moderates such as Condoleezza Rice now have the edge over hard-line Israel-firsters such as Dick Cheney. It is not inconceivable that the US could discreetly encourage the EU to take the lead in engaging with Hamas (as it earlier encouraged the EU to talk to Iran), while itself remaining aloof. The broader regional perspective may yet encourage the US – and possibly even Israel – to welcome the EU playing such a role. Given the growth of both Islamism and Iranian influence in the region stretching from Lebanon to Afghanistan, the US could reason that engaging Hamas would help to prevent an increase in the influence of either Iran or al-Qaeda in Gaza.

Charles Grant is the director and Clara O’Donnell is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.