As bad as it can get
It is not about Turkey – it is about Germany. If you were someone in government appointing the head of the judiciary, half of the members of the upper house, the commanders of all the armed forces, Friday prayer leaders and the head of radio and TV you would be Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. Nowadays this is a bad thing in Europe and in the US. But if you were a president of another country appointing 14 out of the 17 Constitutional judges, it is ok. Or is it ?
Recent constitutional changes in Turkey made a stir in the media. The amendments were largely backed by the democratic world and were welcome by EU leaders as a step in the right direction towards European values and more just society. Indeed there are some legal texts that aim at granting equal rights to all individuals, including the individual right to individual constitutional petition (which I am a great fan of).
But there is one aspects of the constitutional changes that startles me – the fact that the President of Turkey will be granted, among other things, the power to appoint 14 of the 17 constitutional judges. And this is in a secular country, which in the last decade has turned increasingly Islamic thanks to the AKP – the party holding power and proposing these constitutional amendments. In this situation the Constitutional court is one of the few remaining bastions of secularism. But after the referendum 2 weeks ago, which okayed the amendments, set the start of deep albeit slow change of the status quo.
Recently during a visit to Turkey, German Foreign Minsiter Gido Westerwelle welcomed the constitutional changes and called for keeping the door open for Turkey’s future EU membership. Now, grand EU politics is one thing, but imagine the president of Romania appointing nearly the whole constitutional court. Or the president of Bulgaria. Or any other Eastern European EU member state’s president for that matter. It will be a disaster! The Commission will be “appalled” by the “democratic reversal”. International democracy watchdogs will start barking against this sacrilege.
So what does this tell us? Welcoming such radical changes or at least not mentioning them means situation is as bad as it can get and constitutional principles tend to be left behind when convenient. This is not good news for Europe and democracy. But it very well demonstrates how the potential of shifting of power to erode principles rooted in our political systems.