Thursday, February 12, 2009

CHP to EU: Please Don't Let Us Be Misunderstood

Hot on the heels of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Deniz Baykal, leader of the Turkish opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), recently made his own trip to the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels. Like Erdogan, this was Baykal’s first visit to Brussels in many years.

Also like Erdogan, the CHP leader had some damage control work to do – but with a difference. While Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been accused by Brussels of slowing down Turkey’s EU reform process, the CHP has been viewed as actually opposing that process.

"The misperception about the CHP's opposition to Turkey's aspirations to join the 27-nation bloc may stem from a number of things, but certainly not from us," Baykal said in his party’s defense during a press conference with the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn. It was a nice try to pass the buck, but the truth is that over the last few years the CHP has frequently based its opposition politics on a kind of reactionary nationalism, particularly when it came to issues related to the EU. The CHP, for example, was vehemently opposed to legislation designed to liberalize Turkish law regarding the rights of minority foundations, with one party MP even suggesting that passing the law would lead to Greek claims on the Hagia Sophia, the Istanbul landmark that was a church during Byzantine times. More recently, the CHP opposed the launch of a state-run Kurdish-language television station, arguing it goes against the "basic understanding of the state."

Visits to Brussels are an important thing, but Baykal – like Erdogan – should remember that the road to EU membership begins at home. Still, Baykal’s coming to Brussels, where the CHP recently opened an office, was an important step, one that may help bring the party out of the cold on the critical issue of Turkey’s EU membership. With both the CHP and AKP now professing their commitment to the EU process, what the bloc would really like to see, says Brussels-based analyst Amanda Akcakoca in a column in Today’s Zaman is:
… both of these parties working together for the benefit of Turkey rather than against each other, which is a totally fruitless activity and bad for the nation. They need to try to find some harmony and common ground, and if the EU membership goal can once again serve as this common ground -- given they both claim to back it -- this would be good news. Turkey needs a healthy political environment, which is not the case at the moment, and the EU would clearly welcome a multi-stakeholder approach to Turkey's EU accession process -- a process that was backed by the ruling party, the opposition, civil society, trade unions, etc.

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