• February 13, 2009

Ciçek: Without Turkey, the EU cannot be a strategic power

Ciçek: Without Turkey, the EU cannot be a strategic power

He argued that the EU”s negative and obstructive attitude has been encouraging those groups who oppose Turkey”s EU membership. “This also reinforces the Turkish people”s perception that the EU is not inclined to accept Turkey as a member, regardless of how well it performs,” he said. “There must be popular support for the membership process, but negative statements and attitudes are wearing down this support.”

Ciçek reiterated that Turkey faces great difficulties as a prospective EU member in the midst of negotiations. “Nevertheless, we, as the government, have not slackened in our determination with regard to the EU process. We are not hesitant in the least about it. I believe — this is also the government”s view — that Turkey”s negotiations for the EU process are beneficial provided that Turkey becomes an EU member in the end,” he said. He emphasized that the EU has not been able to emerge as a power that can solve international crises. “In this respect, it needs Turkey as a member that can make contributions to settling crises,” he argued.

Ciçek also touched on the ongoing Ergenekon investigation. “We must have complete confidence in the judicial process and wait for the conclusion of the trial. People should refrain from making assessments from their own political standpoints and patiently let the process take its natural course,” he said. “Doing otherwise is wrong.”

Ciçek is not only the wise man of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), but also the memory of the history of Turkish administration since the Motherland Party (ANAP, now ANAVATAN) government that first took office in 1983. He spoke with Today”s Zaman for an interview recently, as it is his custom to do an interview with one newspaper after every Cabinet meeting.

The year 2009 was announced as the year of the EU. We did the same in 2008, but we were unable to accomplish it then. Do you believe Turkey”s EU bid is back on track?

Every piece of legislation related to the Copenhagen criteria had been drafted by the Justice Ministry ahead of the start of Turkey”s negotiations with the EU. Today, Turkey can proceed with its negotiations thanks to the infrastructure the Justice Ministry laid during my time as its head. Turkey is currently a negotiating country, but it faces great difficulties. Nevertheless, we, as the government, have not slackened in our determination with regard to the EU process. We are not hesitant in the least about it. I believe — this is also the government”s view — that Turkey”s negotiations for the EU process are beneficial provided that Turkey becomes an EU member in the end.

‘Today the EU is not a problem-solving power’

What if it does not end with full membership?

This is a thing that we are not willing to even discuss. We do not want to think about such a possibility. This is because the primary target of the negotiations we are conducting is to attain full membership. We go on with the negotiations on the condition that we will become a full member in the end. We have never considered any alternative. We will not accept any preliminary condition other than full membership. This is a point that everyone should be aware of.

Turkey”s EU membership will be to the benefit not only of Turkey, but also the EU. Indeed, the EU is today an economic power. It can also be regarded as a political power. But it is not a strategic power. It is not a problem-solving power in the international arena. This is only possible through Turkey”s membership. There are examples to prove this point. For instance, more than 25,000 people were massacred in the middle of Europe, i.e., in Bosnia. Despite the fact that this region was part of Europe, the EU could not do anything about this massacre.

Similarly, there was another massacre in Kosovo. The EU failed to act to prevent this tragedy that happened in its immediate vicinity. Moreover, the EU was ineffective concerning the incidents in the Middle East and the Caucasus. Today the EU is not a problem-solving power with respect to any international crisis. In this respect, it needs Turkey as a member that can make contributions to settling crises.

Yet, you, too, would agree that there has been a general slowdown in the process. Why?

There are several reasons for the slowdown in the process. One of these factors can be grouped as obstacles caused by the EU itself. Initially, the process was quite fast. There were countries in Europe that were warm to the idea of accepting Turkey as an EU member. These countries were being ruled by social democratic governments. Now the Christian Democrats, or the parties that oppose Turkey”s EU membership, are now in power throughout Europe. These governments either have a distorted view about Turkey”s EU membership or propose other options for Turkey. Second, the prerequisite for Turkey starting negotiations with the EU has long been advertised as its fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria. We have satisfactorily fulfilled these criteria. Indeed, [EU Commission Vice President] Günter Verheugen said at the time that there were no more problems. But they placed the Cyprus issue on the table.

However, it was never mentioned as a prerequisite. The EU made another wrong move and made the Greek Cypriots a full member, even though they had ongoing disputes with their neighbors and were not inclined to solve them. The Greek Cypriots have dominated the EU”s policies.

With respect to the Cyprus issue, the EU has not only failed to offer any solution, but it has also started to block any move toward settling the issue. By doing so, it shows that it is not and will not become a strategic power. They have admitted this halfheartedly, but they still lend support to the Greek Cypriots and they want every step to be taken by the Turkish side.

This is the EU”s crooked conception of justice. Its scales are insensitive and wrong. They have blocked eight out of 33 negotiating chapters because of the Greek Cypriots. Five chapters were blocked by France. The screening reports under 10 chapters are yet to be sent to Turkey. When these are removed from the table, nothing significant remains for negotiations. There are already 10 chapters that were opened. There remain only six chapters. Those who complain about a slowdown must realize this.

So you are putting all the blame on the EU. Aren”t there any developments in Turkey that have blocked the process?

Of course, there are obstacles on our side, but we can overcome them, as we did in the past. But the EU”s negative and obstructive attitude has been encouraging the groups that oppose Turkey”s EU membership. This serves as a factor of discouragement for the implementation of the bills we pass. This also reinforces the Turkish people”s perception that the EU is not inclined to accept Turkey as a members, regardless of how it performs. However, the EU is a comprehensive project. There must be popular support for the membership process. But negative statements and attitudes are wearing down this support.

It is being said that following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan”s harsh words against Israel, the Jewish lobby in the US will withdraw its support from Turkey with respect to the Armenian “genocide” bill. Do you think that a new era has begun in Turkish-Israeli relations?

This and other things are being said. Some say these things as wishful thinking. The prime minister and the Turkish government have not done anything against the Jewish nation or the Jewish race. Such an attitude would not be accepted in our beliefs or our culture. And our past is full of examples showing this. It said that because of Israel”s recent attack on Gaza, about 1,300 people died, 5,000 people were wounded and about 50,000 people were left without homes. The damage amounts to about $2 billion. Forty-two percent of the 1,300 deaths were women and children. There were publications and broadcasts around the world. International TV networks covered the tragedy. Even Jewish intellectuals criticized it. We have never entertained anti-Semitism. We have never had hostility against Jews or the Israeli people, and we never will. Turkey is the only country that can express this criticism and, at the same time, continue to have dialogue with all sides. We attach importance to our relations with Israel, and we intend to maintain them.

‘Ergenekon is a lawful investigation’

The Ergenekon investigation has become the most discussed investigation in Turkey”s history. It is claimed that the ruling party is using this investigation to suppress its rivals. How do you regard this investigation?

Everyone should know this: This is a lawful investigation. But, since its inception, there have been political discussions about the trial. In particular, Republican People”s Party [CHP] leader Deniz Baykal has been making very political comments about this purely legal process. Baykal practiced law, and he knows well that it is illegal to make such comments about an issue that is being investigated by the judicial authorities. This is an offense under Article 288. The prosecutors are supposed to launch an investigation under this article, be it against Baykal or others. Unfortunately, no due care is being paid to this. Everyone is talking about the rule of law, but they readily violate it. If the rule of law is being sought, and if everyone wants the Turkish republic to be governed by the rule of law as laid out in its Constitution, then everyone must pay due respect to the law. Failing to abide by the law and at the same time advocating the rule of law is an unfortunate paradox. Even media organizations and politicians suffer from this dilemma. Worst of it is that even some judicial officials, too, fail to pay respect to rule of law. No one is allowed to say anything about an ongoing trial. This is because we do not know about the content of the case file. I personally do not know it. How can I speak about something about which I know nothing?

In whatever form they advertise, these are all purely political comments. If one makes political assessments about an ongoing legal process, then law becomes a vehicle for daily politics.

In this way, you politicize law. This is what Turkey frequently does. This question was asked to me during the news conference held after the Cabinet meeting. Every time, I answered it by recalling the legal rules. It is wrong to speak about that which you know nothing about. In this way, you either declare people as innocent or guilty in the beginning. This means that you establish legal judgments not based on clear truth, but based on your biases, ideological obsessions or political position. When the people detained are in their political camp, they cry, “Why can you detain these people? How can you arrest these people who have hold certain positions?” In other words, they demand privileges for them. When the people detained are in the rival camp, then they say, “They got their dessert. This was what was expected.”

This is not law. This is utterly wrong. You cannot rely on your ideological obsessions or some abstract illusions in your mind in pursuing your politics. This will complicate things for the judiciary. A person who is detained or who is being investigated is neither guilty nor innocent. We cannot know it. It is the court that will decide about his case. Then, everyone must be patient. Such comprehensive investigations cannot be easily completed in a short time. Such investigations were conducted only during martial law in Turkey. This investigation is the biggest and most comprehensive investigation of the Turkish republic.

We must have utter confidence in the judicial process and wait for the conclusion of the trial. The court may be erroneous in procedures or as to the merits of the case. There are legal provisions to correct these. There is also the Supreme Court of Appeals as an ultimate authority of appeal. If there are errors in the case files, they will eventually be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Appeals. People should refrain from making assessments from their own political standpoints, but be patient for the process to take its natural course. This is wrong.

Recently, some people have argued that it is not an offense to consider or plan a military coup as long as no attempt is made to fulfill it. This is a recurring argument voiced by Mümtaz Soysal and some other people. These arguments seem to be moves to acquit the suspects. What do you think about it?

I do not want to talk much about it. Not only with respect to the Ergenekon investigation, but also with regard to other corruption cases, professional solidarity tends to outweigh legal considerations. People tend to distort law for these members of their own political camp. Legal rules are sacrificed to professional solidarity. We have seen examples of it many times. It is my hope that we will not see them in future. I can perfectly understand solidarity among members of the same profession on purely humanitarian considerations. One can pay a visit to a detained person. One can visit even a convicted person; his conviction does not imply that one should cut off ties with that person. In other words, a convicted person is not cursed person. One can visit that person”s relatives or spouse. You can perform visits after getting permission for it. Indeed, laws specify who can visit whom, and one is supposed to abide by laws. These are humanitarian considerations. You cannot raise objections about them. Yet, if you go beyond this and put yourself in place of the judiciary and start to accuse or penalize someone, this will be wrong. This is a frequent practice in Turkey.

Professional solidarity is acceptable provided that it stays within humanitarian limits. But if you frequently go out and issue statements or hold press conferences, then one is inclined to ask whether laws are just for the weak. Is this acceptable? This is wrong. Offenses are committed by people, not by professions.

If you emphasize the title of the person who has committed a crime, this will lead to suspension of law. Offenses are committed by individuals, not by certain professions.

If justice is the basis of everything, then everyone must pay respect to it. However, we tend to attach greater importance to our ideology than law. We tend to be guided by our camps and our professional biases. Soysal is not an expert on criminal law as he is specialized in constitutional law. In legal terms, his arguments are not valid.

‘What happened before presidental elections?’

It seems that the military is involved not only in legal processes, but also in the political process. A recently disclosed voice recording reveals that former Chief of General Staff İsmail Hakkı Karadayı warned former ANAVATAN leader Erkan Mumcu not to attend the parliamentary session for electing the president.

There were illegalities and troubles during the presidential election, and the parliamentary elections had to be held in July, earlier than its normal schedule. As we have failed to solve this issue through legal and constitutional methods, we have to refer it to the nation for final settlement. During that process, we have gone through a number of things. These will be clarified in time. Yet, Turkey should now leave those days back in the past. All troubles and issues are being closely monitored and eventually solved by the nation. It will continue to settle them in future. There are about 50 million voters. Will they intimidate them?

The Constitutional Court canceled the lawful interception law, which is also known as wiretapping bill. Will this lead to the cancellation of the wiretapping methods used in the Ergenekon investigation.

The law was not canceled in its entirety. This law is an important law. The way to protect freedoms in Turkey is to establish the public order. When the public order is distorted, you cannot bring freedom. If in a country you cannot establish public order under law, and you cannot go out freely, then whether you have freedom to travel or right to own property is unimportant. For this reason, public order is the guarantee for freedoms. These two are not alternatives to each other. They both have to coexist.

Today, offenses against the public order are being committed in an organized manner. These surveillance technology and methods are prerequisites for the fight against organized crimes.

By passing this law, we have laid the legal framework for these methods. The Constitutional Court does not raise objections to this point. It has only canceled the provisions concerning the appointment of the people responsible for this work. After seeing the reasoned decision, we will make arrangements. This bill has not been passed for the Ergenekon investigation. Even individual crimes are being committed in a collective manner. The Constitutional Court acknowledges the raison d”etre of this bill. The wiretapping by the police is being performed upon court order. I don”t think this will be a problem.