European Union welcomes Turkey′s constitutional reform victory | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 13.09.2010

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European Union welcomes Turkey's constitutional reform victory

European leaders have hailed the results of Turkey's constitutional reform referendum as an "important step towards Europe." The majority of Turkish voters decided in favor of the reforms.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Erdogan called the victory a 'turning point' for Turkey

The European Commission has welcomed the constitutional changes approved by Turkish voters in Sunday's referendum, hailing them as decisive step in the direction towards Europe.

"These reforms are a step in the right direction towards fully complying with European Union accession criteria," EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said in Brussels on Monday.

The foreign ministers of Germany and Turkey, from left, Guido Westerwelle and Ahmet Davutoglu

Westerwelle called the referendum positive for German-Turkish relations

He added, however, that Turkey needed to enact laws to implement the reforms as well as a new constitution that would bring its democracy more in line with European standards.

Germany also welcomed the referendum victory that looks to reshape the judiciary and curb the military's powers, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle echoing the EU's praise of Turkey's desire for democracy.

"We welcome the success of the referendum," Westerwelle said in a foreign ministry statement. He added that the Merkel government was "confident that the reform process in Turkey, in the sense of greater openness in society, will be continued."

'Turning point' for Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said provisional results showed that some 58 percent of the voters backed the amendments in the referendum on Sunday, hailing the outcome as a "turning point" for Turkish democracy.

Ballot counting at Sunday's reform referendum

The Turkish people voted either 'YES' or 'NO'

Erdogan said he was eager to bring Turkey more in line with European norms and distance it from its current constitution, which was established in 1982 after a coup d'etat.

"In normal times people say that they are against the coup and the constitution of the coup, so they now have chance to change it," Erdogan said, asking, "How can any one against the coup oppose these reforms?"

Opposition fears for Turkey's secularism

Yet the country's two main opposition parties - from both the right and left of the political spectrum - campaigned against the proposed judicial reforms in the package of 26 new or revised amendments.

Soldiers disperse dissidents in Ankara in 1980

Turkey's current constitution was written under pressure

Opposition leaders claimed that Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), marked by its Islamic roots, would use the reforms to seize control of the judiciary, thus undermining Turkey's secular state.

The proposed judicial reforms included a bid to increase the number of Constitutional Court judges from 11 to 17, giving parliament great power to select the new appointees. The reforms would also lead to changes in the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the center-left Republican People's Party, said the proposed measures would put critics of the government in danger.

"My call is to all the business people, all the artists and intellectuals," he said. "If 'yes' comes out of the referendum, one morning your home can be raided, you can be taken into custody, and spend months in prison."

A society divided

Well-known Turkish painter and a social-democrat politician Bedri Baykam

Opponents fear freedoms will disappear with the reforms

Opponents have said the government already enjoys a massive majority in parliament, adding that passing the reforms would mean lifting one of the last checks on government power. They have also criticized the move to have voters decide on the entire package of reforms rather than on individual amendments.

Erdogan declared at the outset of the referendum process his hope that the reform package could unite the country by severing ties with its legacy of military rule. But instead, the referendum appears to have further deepened the division within Turkish society.

"On secularism and conservatism, it is divided between half and half," said political columnist Nuray Mert. "On the definition of secularism and definition of democracy, people have strongly different opinions from each other and the gap between the two camps is widening each day."

Author: Gabriel Borrud, Dorian Jones (AP/Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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