33rd Abant Meeting Seeks to Revamp Turkey’s Foreign and Domestic Policies

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This weekend, JWF hosted the 33rd Abant Platform meeting, titled “Turkey’s Direction,” to discuss the country’s future. The meeting was attended by 120 intellectuals from around the world, including scholars, journalists, NGO leaders, and former politicians. The event took place on June 20-22, 2014, in Turkey’s northwestern town of Akcakoca.

While the Middle East is undergoing a transformation process, it is time to revisit the parameters of Turkish foreign policy … Turkey should turn its direction to the EU again and it should make use of new opportunities while the EU is revisiting its institutions.

The 33rd Abant Platform’s Final Declaration

Participants in the 33rd Abant Platform agreed that Turkey has lost its direction in both its domestic and foreign policy. Rectifying this situation, they said, involves restoring Turkey’s commitment to the European Union accession process and the rule of law at home.

At the end of the three-day meeting, the participants released a 21-article final declaration, divided into sections aligned with the meeting’s five workshops:

  • Turkey’s Place in the Global System
  • Civil Society and Political Participation
  • Democratic and Environmentally-Friendly Development
  • System Debates and Separation of Powers
  • Problems of Democratic Representation: Pluralism and Majoritarianism

The document’s first article discussed Turkey’s uncertain future, stating, “While Turkey was a country that had a certain direction in foreign policy, it has recently begun to give the impression that it does not have any direction. Turkey’s current situation could be summarized as the outlook of a Western country that is not Western and an Eastern country that is not Eastern.”

Reorienting Turkey toward the EU

According to the Abant Platform’s conclusions, Turkey’s policy of supporting democratic aspirations in the Middle East was an appropriate choice. However, Turkey’s lack of formal ambassadorial representation in major Middle Eastern cities (e.g., Cairo, Damascus, and Tel Aviv), along with its sectarian-centered foreign policy approach, has resulted in Turkey’s isolation in the region.

The declaration recommended that Turkish foreign policy focus on democracy and the rule of law instead of sectarian and ideological objectives. Revising the parameters of its foreign policy is increasingly important as the Middle East continues its process of transformation, particularly in light of the recent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) invasions.

The declaration emphasized that policy changes should include turning toward the EU again because Turkey cannot achieve its aspirations of having influence in the Middle East without restoring the values of democracy and human rights at home.

Until recently, Turkey had applied a consistent foreign policy based on following the path to the EU and the principles upheld by the 28-nation bloc, emphasizing fundamental freedoms and rights.

Turkey began its accession talks with the EU in 2005, but the accession process has virtually came to a halt, first amid the Cyprus dispute and a reluctance on the part of some EU countries to approve Turkey’s membership, and more recently due to the issue of deteriorating human rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Increasing and diversifying political participation

In a recommendation aimed at improving democratic standards, the declaration also emphasized that the Turkish Parliament should pass legislation to bring the current electoral threshold below 10 percent, arguing that the current 10 percent threshold is preventing proper participation from varied segments of society in the political system. The declaration stated that confining policy-making only to political parties is a grave mistake, saying that representatives of civil society, the media, professional associations, and individuals should be included in the policy-making process.

Lamenting the existence of restrictions on individual freedoms and censorship by state institutions on channels of information, the declaration called for the removal of such restrictions so that voters are properly informed about issues that concern them. “Demoting political participation to voting alone and not allowing voters to continuously follow political developments [through all available resources] … is anti-democratic,” the declaration stated.

The declaration further stated that civil society plays an important role in blocking the state’s arbitrary political decisions in the public sphere but that it cannot grow to become an influential actor due to existing restrictions on transparency and accountability.

Upholding the rule of law and the separation of powers

Speaking on the rule of law and the separation of powers, the Abant Platform claimed that Parliament has lost its efficiency as a legislative power, calling for urgent measures to protect the principle of the separation of powers.

An independent judiciary is also vital for a strong democracy, the Platform said, calling for measures to prevent the government from interfering in the functioning of the judiciary.

In what appeared to be praise for the Constitutional Court’s recent rulings that forced the government to lift bans on YouTube and Twitter, the declaration said, “At a time when fundamental principles such as the separation of powers and checks and balances, which are indispensable components of a sound democracy, are being undermined to favor the ruling party, the existence of constitutional institutions that lend support to freedoms and refrain from political contention should be appreciated.”

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Final Declaration
Final Declaration
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