Open letter to the Turkish people from their European friends

16 May 2007

To the Turkish people from their European friends

16 May 2007

Note: This letter was originally published in the International Herald Tribune.

In recent days Turkey's citizens have been carefully watching the reactions of politicians across Europe and the United States to the memorandum by the Turkish military issued on April 27. In these fraught circumstances, it is vital to send an unambiguous message to Turkish society. We strongly regret this intervention that could harm Turkey's progress as well as its relations with the European Union.

The EU decided to open negotiations with Turkey as a result of a striking sequence of reforms that led the European Commission in 2004 to declare that Turkey substantially met the so-called political Copenhagen criteria. One of these criteria is respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Another is a functioning democracy, including as a basic principle, full civilian control over the armed forces. The intervention by the military on April 27 throws Turkey's compliance into doubt.

The Turkish military justified this by the need to defend "Turkish secularism." However, the threat to secularism has been overstated. In fact, Turkey has undertaken a number of important reforms, in sectors ranging from women's rights to education, which provide legal protection for secular values. Much remains to be done - including removing the penal code's restrictions on freedom of speech and working to close the gender gap - and we call on the Turkish authorities to vigorously pursue the reform path. But Turkish legislation has never been closer to European standards than today, and many of these changes have been brought about under the current government.

We believe that it is up to the Turkish political process, and to Turkish civil society, to express the preferences of the Turkish public. Large demonstrations, challenges of political decisions in courts and political campaigns are all acceptable tactics in democratic politics. We understand those who are concerned about the concentration of power, but this should not be taken as an excuse for the military to limit democratic government.

Finally, we call on European governments to reaffirm the promises and commitments that the EU has made in the past. Turkey still has much to do before it meets European standards, but by showing solidarity with Turkish democrats, the EU can now help to keep the process on track.

Urban Ahlin, deputy chairman, foreign affairs committee, Swedish Parliament; Hans van den Broek, former foreign minister of the Netherlands; Daniel Cohn-Bendit, member of European Parliament; José Cutileiro, former secretary general, WEU; Marta Dassù, Aspen Institute Italia; Andrew Duff, member of European Parliament; Sarmite Elerte, editor, Diena; Michael Emerson, Center for European Policy Studies; Joschka Fischer, former foreign minister of Germany; Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford University; Teresa Patrício Gouveia, former foreign minister of Portugal; Charles Grant, Center for European Reform; Diego Hidalgo, FRIDE; Michiel van Hulten, former chair of the Dutch Labor Party; Josef Janning, Bertelsmann Foundation; Dan Jørgensen, member of European Parliament; Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics; Lord Kinnock of Bedwellty, former EU Commissioner; Gerald Knaus, European Stability Initiative; Ivan Krastev, Center for Liberal Strategies; Joost Lagendijk, member of European Parliament; Mark Leonard, European Council on Foreign Relations; Alain Minc, chairman of Le Monde and head of AM Conseil; Antonio Missiroli, European Policy Center; Giles Merritt, Friends of Europe; Kalypso Nicolaidis, University of Oxford; Cem Özdemir, member of European Parliament; Ana Palacio, former foreign minister of Spain; Diana Pinto, historian; Narcis Serra, former vice president of Spain; Aleksander Smolar, Stefan Batory Foundation; Dana Spinant, European Voice; Antonio Vitorino, former EU Commissioner; Gijs de Vries, former EU counter-terrorism coordinator; Stephen Wall, former adviser to the British prime minister.

If you want to sign this letter please go to the European Council on Foreign Relations website. This letter is also available in Turkish and French.