Geopolitics

Turkey, Time For A Truly Democratic Constitution

Ekrem Imamoglu's victory in the recent rerun election in Istanbul was a breath of fresh air for Turkish democracy. But to really recover lost ground, the country needs a new set of rules, writes Yakup Kepenek.

Time to change the country's current insensitivity to ordinary people?
Yakup Kepenek

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL — It has now been nine years since a new regime was initiated with the constitutional law change of Sept. 12, 2010, and every day since, Turkey has been struggling to earn back its freedom. For a swift recovery, it's now time for certain basic laws of the constitution to be revisited.

The presidential regime, also known as the Presidential Government System (PGS), was fully implemented last year. However, the regime has de facto been in place for the past nine years after the constitutional amendment of 2010. In the end, what we're left with is a system that limits our rights and freedom. It is a system that does not even have a budget that is mandated by legislation.

Our political system is a toy for elected officials, dependent on one person and ineffective public institutions, with foreign policy drowning in Syria and people chosen as leaders for their personal ties rather than talents. The government is corrupt, and the economy is defined by inefficiency, unemployment and inflation.

It should be a constitutional obligation for candidates to be chosen by the people.

A new contemporary constitution is needed that can bring together 150 years of democratic experience and the latest developments of rights and freedoms based on a parliamentary process. The new constitution should include a legislature based on sovereignty that truly comes from the nation, a fully independent and impartial judiciary, and separation of powers from the executive branch.

For this new regime to be reborn in a healthy way, certain things must happen first. Let's briefly summarize them. Turkey's biggest weakness right now is the increasing disenchantment with political participation over the past five years. True democracy is driven by voting. Today, the process of identifying candidates, who are chosen by sitting political leaders, should be opened up to the public. If democracy is going to flourish, it should be a constitutional obligation for candidates to be chosen by the people. If this is not applied, the real voter will remain the party leader.

Voting in Istanbul — Photo: Lupa Mi±O/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The other day when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was detailing the job description of his aides, he quipped: "It's as if they're my soldiers." It was a revealing explanation indeed.

Thousands of years ago, on these lands, the Phrygia Kingdom had an ancient version of the kind of constitutions we use today. In Phrygia, every province had an equal number of representatives. Today Turkey has 81 provinces. If every province voted with two senators, in the end there would be a parliament made up of 162 senators. If this number is unnecessarily inflated and subtracted from the number of 600 deputies, there would be 438 deputies to be distributed to the provinces according to the size of the population, which is more than enough for that branch of the legislature.

To strengthen the country's politics with integrity, honesty and virtue means beginning with the guarantee of complete press freedom, labor rights, open political participation and equality before the law. In a narrower sense, the financing of politics and the salary of the office holders should be based on clear constitutional rules in order to avoid politics being a financial prize.

It's not up to you to talk about our salaries.

The current regime's attitude toward public finances must be reversed. The government's wasteful spending undermines democratic rule. The public procurement system has turned into an illicit source of income for too many. For the political system to lose its morals over money matters, for budgeting to be left up to the president, shows that the regime is a monetary black hole that only a new constitution can fix.

Just last week, members of the newly formed Presidency High Advisory Board increased their salaries by 40% in their first meeting. This is a rather blatant example of the current insensitivity of politics to ordinary people. Bulent Arinc, a member of the board, responded to the uproar by saying: "It's not up to you to talk about our salaries." This clearly summarizes the Erdogan regime's attitude about public finances.

Still, to make lasting change, we need a new constitution that values freedom of thought and defends equal citizenship and social peace as core principles of the nation.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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