Brussels Turks weigh constitutional reform

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Brussels Turks weigh constitutional reform

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Euronews checked out opinions on this Sunday’s consitutional referendum in a strongly Turkish immigrant quarter of Brussels. In a café that is is a home away from home for believers in modern Turkey’s strongly secular tradition, the base of the Atatürk Thought Association, we asked about perceptions of a reduction in the separation of government and court powers.

A patron who has already voted ‘no’ to the reform package (possible at the airport, when returning from a recent visit to Turkey), said: “With the constitutional change, there will be a disqualification of the secular magistrature in favour of a commission of Oulemas — Islamic scholars. They will decide how the country’s laws are applied.”

Others in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood take a different position — a clearly favourable one. One resident said: “I voted ‘yes’, because I think that the government will do very good things for our future, for our children, for the people. All in all, they’re working well for Turkey.”

The European Commission says the constitutional reform move is a step in the right direction. The officially secular Moslem country has been negotiating for EU membership since 2005. Anti-referendum voices — the strongest is the BDP Kurdish Party — are urging a boycott. The European Parliament is supporting full participation.

MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten, of the European People’s Party, said: “Nobody should be prevented from going to the ballot box. Everybody should have the right to vote, and to say a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There are some opposition parties who claim that Turkish citizens should not go to the vote, and I think it is very unwise.”

The European Commission has backed Ankara’s attempt to reorganise the judiciary, but stresses that it must have political independence. Brussels also criticised the government’s organising of the referendum without holding broad consultations with the opposition and civil society. The European Parliament is also watching closely how the referendum will go.

MEP Hannes Swoboda, with the Socialists and Democrats, said: “I would have liked the debate to be livelier. It might have been possible to reach an understanding if we had had a longer discussion. That would have been far better, of course. But
Turkey’s decisions must be recognised.”

Among the 26 amendments that will be put to Turkish citizens in this Sunday’s referendum on the constitution, several have a bearing on human rights. This includes the right to private life, removing restrictions on travel and more rights for children.