The Reform Action Group, formed to harmonise Turkey’s EU-related legislation, has convened following a three-year hiatus. Talk of reform dominated the meeting, chaired by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Internal Affairs and Treasury, with frequent recourse to such words as “democracy, the supremacy of the law, the European Convention on Human Rights, justice, freedom, human rights and judicial reform,” which politicians have for years refrained from even uttering. With it decided at the meeting for a judicial reform strategy to be created, to this end the five targets at the first stage were set: “Target periods, broadening the competence of the compensation commission, making recourse to alternative dispute resolution effective, increasing the number of appeal courts and effectively protecting the right against self-incrimination.”
With Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who was hosting the meeting at the EU Department, stating that they were aiming to work more closely with the Council of Europe, he said that, as to relations with the EU, matters which are capable of being resolved would take priority. Among these he listed the Customs Union that has been blocked by the EU and visa liberalization that is expected to take at least two years. On the one hand reiterating his solicitation for greater support from the EU for the fight against terrorism, Çavuşoğlu said, “We will continue to adopt the European Convention on Human Rights and the universal norms and standards that we have embraced as the basis. Regardless of whether we are to be an EU member, reform has been the unwavering priority of AKP governments.”
Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül indicated that they would make efforts regarding the forwarding of European Court of Human Rights Case Law to courts and they would work on chapters 23-24 covering “justice, freedom and security” that are not expected to be opened by the EU. With it resolved at the meeting to update the Judicial Reform Strategy Document by the end of November, the date of the next meeting was set for 11 December. With Gül saying, “A stronger legal system means a stronger democracy and freedom. The upcoming period will be a period in which trust in the judiciary will increase and trust in the judiciary will accelerate,” he noted that joint efforts in dialogue with the EU would continue. Minster Gül also spoke of pilot implementations beginning.
With Minister Gül stating that the number of applications made to the European Court of Human Rights citing violation of the convention by Turkey had fallen to their lowest level in fifteen years at 6,400, he nevertheless ignored the significance in this regard of the state of emergency commission, established as a domestic legal remedy, having issued very few rulings until now. A great number of applications are expected to be made to the European Court of Human Rights from Turkey in the coming years following the exhaustion of domestic legal remedies. With “protecting the presumption of innocence” and “release pending trial” taking pride of place among the steps Turkey will take to promote judicial reform, the tasks being undertaken by the Ministry were listed as follows:
-Transitioning to the “target period” implementation in the judiciary.
-Broadening the competence of the Human Rights Compensation Commission.
-Making recourse to alternative dispute resolution more effective.
-Increasing the number of appeal courts.
-Measures aimed at protecting the right against self-incrimination more effectively.
For his part, Berat Albayrak, invited to the reform table for the first time as Minister of Finance and Treasury, having stressed that updating the Customs Union that has been blocked by the EU would benefit both sides, accused the USA of targeting the Turkish economy and opted to convey messages aimed at the markets. Stating that following France he would go to the UK next week, Albayrak said that “positive and sensible comments befitting the spirit of alliance” were emanating above all from France and Germany. Indicating that Turkey’s financial architecture would be reconstructed, Albayrak said, “Further supporting monetary policy with financial policy, 2019 will be a strong year in Turkey’s fight against inflation along with all our stakeholders.”
Minister of Internal Affairs Süleyman Soylu, for his part, even if he reiterated the “will to reform,” gave no pointers to concrete reform in his area of responsibility and laid the stress on the fight against terrorism. Soylu said, “Turkey, while endeavouring to realize its EU goals, is on the other hand combatting terrorism. Turkey has taken significant steps regarding border security. In common with the other ministries, we will maintain an approach that firmly embraces the will to reform within our own setting.”