STRASBOURG (Today’s Zaman)–The new president of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has called on Turkey to adopt a new constitution to solve its problems, while reaffirming the commission’s commitment to share its expertise with Turkish authorities over constitutional revisions.
In an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman on the sidelines of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of the Europe (PACE) plenary meetings in Strasbourg, Gianni Buquicchio said: “You will not eliminate all these [legal] problems, especially concerning the closure of parties, if you do not change the constitution and the Law on Political Parties. We have said this several times, and the Turkish authorities know this.”
The Venice Commission president added that “one of [his] main objections as the new president of the commission is to restart a real substantial cooperation with two important countries — Turkey and Russia.” “You need to revise the constitution. Your government was very motivated to change the constitution. It seems there is a draft which appears to be a good one. I do not understand why this draft has not been put forward for discussion and possible adoption in Parliament,” Buquicchio remarked.
He accused the opposition of not supporting the government in this endeavor. “The opposition parties should play a constructive role. I can’t imagine all parties would be in favor of [change], but I think there could be some parties who are in favor of progress for the Turkish society,” he underlined.
The fact that Turkey is one of the oldest democracies and one of the founding members of the Council of Europe should not hinder the urgent need for expert help from that renowned institution, Buquicchio explained. “The Venice Commission was not created for new democracies only. They [Turkish officials] have to change their approach. It is not inappropriate for them to ask for help from the Venice Commission and share our wisdom. Luxembourg and Finland have asked our opinion regarding recent constitutional revisions. Why not Turkey?” he asked.
Turkey’s Constitutional Court recently overturned a reform package approved by the president last year that required civilian courts to try members of the military in peacetime.
Turkey has not officially requested the opinion of the commission on constitutional changes as of today or sought the expertise of the commission members. “This is a pity. They have not submitted a request yet,” Buquicchio lamented. He was encouraged, however, by a Thursday meeting with PACE’s Turkish president, Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose first message to Turkey was to get a new constitution. “The PACE president could help us in that regard,” Buquicchio said.
Any Turkish authority can directly apply to the Venice Commission to ask for an opinion, including but not limited to the Justice Ministry or Parliament.
“Turkey can apply directly to our commission, and this is the best solution. This is a shared cooperation not imposed by the body of the Council of Europe,” he emphasized. The alternative to direct contact is for PACE to force Turkey to adopt Venice Commission criteria. This happens only when there is a gross problem in violation of European charters.
The Venice Commission head described the high judiciary in Turkey as a “monopoly” and urged Parliament to have a say in the election of high justices to reclaim legitimacy and accountability in the eyes of the public. “The problem also concerns the high council of the judiciary [Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, (HSYK)], where the most important jurists have a kind of monopoly. This also needs to be changed. Parliament should have a say in this,” Buquicchio explained. The HSYK is the sole authority in Turkey to nominate and appoint judges and prosecutors to courts and decides on their promotions.
He emphasized that there should be a balance among different powers in the country. “For a good working high council, you need a balance between different powers, among the government, judiciary and possibly executive branches, in order to have checks and balances. This is important because the court must be a legitimate one,” he pointed out.
Addressing the election of justices to the Constitutional Court, Buquicchio said Turkey could follow the German example, where the parliament plays an important role in appointing justices to the top bench. “When these persons [nominees] become members of the court, they forget the political support. They become completely independent. That is the question of democratic culture,” he noted.
He further argued that the judiciary’s hands are often tied by existing laws or the constitution. “If the laws are not clear or precise, you can obtain results like the closure of some political parties,” he said, stressing that political parties are very important components of the system and that they shouldn’t be shut down except under very strict conditions, “like repetitive violence and actions — but not for words.”