“Europe’s stance on People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is based on politics, not law”

“Europe’s stance on People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is based on politics, not law”

Türkiye’s Constitutional Court is hearing the case of closure of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on the grounds of its links to the PKK. Besides Türkiye, the European Union and the United States also recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. Most recently, the court has imposed a temporary blockage on the HDP’s accounts of treasury funds.

In its statements, the EU criticizes Ankara and opposes the HDP closure case.

We interviewed Fahri Erenel, Retired Brigadier General and Head of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Istinye University (Istanbul), about the EU’s stance towards HDP from legal and political dimensions.

A comparison between EU and Turkish law

Why is the EU criticizing Türkiye over the HDP? Is the EU’s stance based on a difference between EU and Turkish law?

There is no big difference between the two. It is rather that the EU interprets the Convention on Human Rights of the European Court of Human Rights slightly differently than does Türkiye. The EU’s stance implies the following interesting approach: “If there is no violation on the individual level, then there is no violation on the political party level too”. Turkish law, on the other hand, primarily takes the actions of the party as a legal entity as a basis, rather than the actions and statements of the party’s leaders.

According to the Turkish constitution, one of the grounds to close a political party is that it is “becoming a center for unconstitutional actions”, which is also in question in the HDP closure case. The issue lies precisely in this phrase “becoming a center for unconstitutional actions”. How to interpret this phrase? What exactly does it correspond to? The EU links “becoming a center for unconstitutional actions” with violence, that is, changing the political order through violence. By contrast in Türkiye, judicial decisions refer to the legal entity of the party.

In the past, the European Court of Human Rights found Türkiye’s decision to close the People’s Labor Party, the predecessor of HDP, justified because the party “promotes violence”. The Venice Commission also states that it is justified to close a party if it uses violence in a way that undermines the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution or if it uses violence as a political tool.

In sum, we can say that the EU considers there are two main grounds for the closure of political parties: The first is advocating and promoting violence and the second is using it as a political tool. There are many cases where the EU has rejected requests of closed political parties for reconsideration of the juridical decision to closure.

“Center for unconstitutional activities

Are the activities of HDP, which have been determined by the Turkish judiciary, not considered terrorist activities according to the EU law you mentioned?

In the HDP closure case, many executives and mayors of the party have already been convicted of “being a center for unconstitutional activities”. There is no doubt that such activities are also terrorist activities according to EU law. It is precisely at this point that we move from the legal to the political dimension of the issue.

When we look only at the legal dimension, we have to say that EU law would find Türkiye justified. The case of the HEP that I mentioned earlier is instructive in this regard. After the HEP was closed in 1993, this party demanded to be taken under the legal protection of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). I examined the ECHR’s reasoned decision on this. Here is what the ECHR writes: HEP used violence as a tool of politics, therefore it was not deemed appropriate for it to take protection from the ECHR against the closure decision issued by Türkiye.

As for HDP, the party’s characteristic of being a “center for unconstitutional activities” has been proven by the actions of the party that the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has determined in terms of time, place and person. In a similar example in Spain, the Batasuna Party was closed on the grounds of providing support to ETA, which is recognized as a terrorist organization, and ECHR issued an adequacy decision for this.

When we make a comprehensive assessment, that is, an assessment taking into account the European Court of Human Rights, the Venice Commission and the Turkish constitution, we conclude that the HDP closure case should have not posed a problem for EU law, of course merely from a legal point of view. From this point on, the problem stems from Europe’s political, not legal, approach to the issue. A prudent statesman or jurist in Europe is already aware that the case file and evidence presented by Constitutional Court on HDP are sufficient for a closure decision.

Anti-Türkiye sentiment in Europe

There is great pressure on Türkiye now, as there has always been. What does the EU want to say with its stance on the HDP closure case? For example, “If you continue to put obstacles in the way of Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership, you will pay the price.”

We see how effective the PKK terrorist organization has been rendered in France. A TV channel in France even crossed the line to depict the Southeastern Anatolia region of Türkiye on a map under the name of so-called “Kurdistan”. Does France not know that this is against the rules of law such as the European Basic Conventions on Human Rights signed with Türkiye?

We can clearly see that some European countries are trying to create an anti-Türkiye sentiment among our Kurdish citizens living in Europe and in some other circles. Also, members of Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization are being utilized for this.

Besides the political dimension, there is also a social dimension. There is a rising social tide against Turks and Muslims in Europe. Anti-Islamism and extreme nationalism are getting stronger and stronger.

Şafak Erdem

Şafak Erdem was born in Istanbul in 1993. He completed primary and secondary school in Istanbul, then studied philosophy and sociology as an undergraduate at Boğaziçi University. He is currently doing a master's degree in philosophy.

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December 2023