When Better Is the Enemy of Good

January 8, 2016

For a good number of years drafting a new constitution has been on Turkey’s agenda. The 1982 Constitution has been amended numerous times but our political parties still regard it as the legacy of a military coup and wish to write a new one. For some at least, this appears to be a knee-jerk response rather than a reasoned position. The amended Constitution may indeed not be the perfect one, but it has not prevented democratic reform. The following are excerpts from the Presidency Conclusions of EU’s December 16-17, 2004 Brussels summit when Turkey was given a date for the launching of accession negotiations:

“18. The European Council welcomed the decisive progress made by Turkey in its far-reaching reform process and expressed its confidence that Turkey will sustain that process of reform. Furthermore, it expects Turkey to actively pursue its efforts to bring into force the six specific items of legislation identified by the Commission… (*)
“22. The European Council welcomed the adoption of the six pieces of legislation identified by the Commission. It decided that, in the light of the above and of the Commission report and recommendation, Turkey sufficiently fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria to open accession negotiations provided that it brings into force these specific pieces of legislation.
“ It invited the Commission to present to the Council a proposal for a framework for negotiations with Turkey, on the basis set out in paragraph 23. It requested the Council to agree on that framework with a view to opening negotiations on 3 October 2005.”

The foregoing was put down black on white when the 1982 Constitution was in force. Some now look back and even say, “those were the days…”

The accession process has long been derailed due to EU’s lack of vision and Turkey’s drifting away from the path of reform. It would be unfair to blame the 1982 Constitution for this blunder which in the light of Arab Spring developments merits the adjective “strategic”.

Turkey’s current atmosphere of polarization is not conducive to the drafting of a new constitution. Moreover, the Middle East turmoil has confronted us with huge security and foreign policy challenges largely because of our own doing. The last thing we need at this moment is opening a constitutional Pandora’s box. None of this is to say that Turkey should live with the present Constitution forever. At the right time, a new constitution based on national consensus and reaffirming the founding principles of the Republic may be desirable. But we need to realize that constitutions in themselves cannot be a remedy to all the political problems facing a country. If there is a will, even under this Constitution, sky would be the limit for Turkey’s democracy. Our politicians need to remember that there are times and situations when better is the enemy of good. This is such a time. Democracy is not about writing texts, it is about having faith in its values and institutions.

(*) Law on Associations, Penal Code, Law on Intermediate Courts of Appeal, Code of Criminal Procedure, legislation establishing the judicial police, and law on execution of punishments.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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