chapter  9
20 Pages

The impact of the EU on minority rights: The Kurds as a case

ByZELAL B. KIZILKAN KISACIK

The increasing focus of European organizations, such as the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU), on minority protection since the disintegration of Communist bloc countries has promoted a new political context and opportunity structure for minority-majority relations. As a forgotten issue throughout the Cold War, minority protection has taken part in the political agenda of Europe. This is due to the widespread mobilization of ethnic groups, particularly in the former Yugoslavia. Empowering minority groups by conferring their cultural and linguistic rights was/has been regarded a way to realize peace and stability in the ethnically fragmented countries. Since then, most of the international and European institutions have taken positive measures to improve the status of minorities. As a major supranational institution, the EU is one these external

bodies promoting domestic changes in this policy-legal issue area. It requires candidate countries to demonstrate ‘stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities’, and it stipulates in the Treaty of Lisbon that ‘respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities’ as one of the foundational value of the Union. That is why any European state has to respect these principles and be committed to promoting them to become a member of the Union. Hence, prospective members must reach certain benchmarks in their treatment of minorities before they accede to membership. This strategy provided the EU with an important instrument for having an impact on minority protection in the candidate countries. Turkey is one applicant countries in which the leverage of the EU on its

minority policies is considerable. Until recently, Turkey prevented the articulation of language and cultural rights for the Kurds. Non recognition of Kurdish identity rights was among the most important considerations in Turkey-EU relations. However, in the aftermath of the Helsinki European Council in 1999, Turkey has undertaken important steps with respect to

minority rights in general, and the protection of minority rights within the context of the Kurdish question in particular. Turkey adopted several harmonization reforms, changing the official stance of Turkey on minorities. The main aim of this chapter is to explore the impact of the European

integration process on the cultural and linguistic rights of the territorially concentrated ethnic Kurdish minority. Two research questions are addressed in this chapter. The first is to what extent changing opportunities and constraints imposed by the EU’s general human rights policies has changed the institutional structure of Turkey to permit the expression of Kurdish claims and demands. The second question is what the factors are that limit or facilitate the impact of the EU. The basic argument of this chapter is that European support for human

rights has encouraged improvements in the state’s treatment of the Kurds in Turkey. But, this is not sufficient to realize a fully-fledged minority protection system for the Kurds. Without a total transformation of the political structure that redefines majority-minority relations, it would not be possible to achieve such a level of protection in Turkey. On the other hand, the opportunity structure created by the European integration, and emerging domestic factors reestablishing the balance of power between the secular establishment and conservative-liberal front led by the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), keeps the process of domestic change open for the adoption of norms for the protection of minorities. This chapter employs ‘Europeanization’ as theoretical framework. The

concept is used to describe various change processes. It is deployed to refer different phenomena and processes of change, such as ‘changes in external boundaries’, ‘developing institutions at the European level’, ‘central penetration of national systems of governance’, ‘exporting forms of political cooperation’, and ‘the political unification project’ (Olsen 2002). In a general sense, Europeanization is defined as a ‘process by which domestic policy areas become increasingly subject to European policy making’ (Börzel 1999: 571). What makes Europeanization a significant theoretical framework for understanding change is that it provides analytical tools to simultaneously understand international and domestic factors and their interactions. Methodologically, a comparative case study is employed. The impact of

the EU on the situation of the Kurds between 1999-2005 and 2005-8 is compared. The first period begins with the EU’s granting to Turkey of candidate status, and the second period commences with the inauguration of accession negotiations. These periods were chosen because the impetus for reform in them shows different variations. This chapter consists of three parts. The first part discusses whether it is possible to deal with the Kurdish question on the basis of minority rights protection. The second part analyzes the EU’s impact on legislative changes relating to the Kurdish issues, and the evolution of the approach of EU institutions towards the Kurdish issue. Lastly, the conditions determining the EU’s impact on the Kurdish issue in two different time periods are compared.