Interview

 

 

 

Mehmet Dülger: A voice for Parliament

 

by Bernard KENNEDY

 

 

Mehmet Dülger, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament, comes from a political family. His father was almost executed with Prime Minister Adnan Menderes at Yassýada after the 1960 coup. A Swiss-educated architect, he himself succumbed to the lure – or duty – of politics as a newspaper director and then chief advisor to Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel in the 1970s. After the 1980 coup, Dülger became a founder and deputy leader of the True Path Party (DYP). The architect spent some time practising his profession after Demirel became President in 1993 and was replaced by Tansu Çiller as DYP leader. In 2002, he re-entered Parliament with the Justice and Development Party (AKP). “One of the reasons I am in politics is to make it a less risky occupation,” he declares. He names the failings of Turkish democracy as antipathy to rules, an emphasis on acquiring power – whether for use in the service of the people, of oneself or of one’s friends – and a constitution adopted under a military administration. Our conversation, however, focused on international issues and in particular the role of the Foreign Affairs Committee…

 

 

Q   What role does the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament play in making foreign policy?

A   The Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament operates within a narrow framework. It discusses the international agreements which the government passes on to it. Those which it sees fit to approve then go to the General Assembly, and those which it does not see fit to approve either wait here or are sent back to the government.

 

When I became chairman of the Committee, a large backlog of agreements had built up over time. There was even one agreement which had been opened up for signatures in 1936. Working rapidly but carefully, we have now dealt with a high proportion of these accords. We have also done a lot of work related to the reform process.

 

Q   How would you like to expand the role of the Committee?

A   At the end of our first year, we called for legislation to make the Committee a place where foreign policy is discussed and debated to some extent, open to members of the Ministry concerned, and to writers, academicians, strategists and so on. This bill has not yet been submitted to Parliament. [If necessary,] I have decided to act as if the bill had become law. As of the coming term, the Foreign Affairs Committee is going to become a very interesting arena.

 

Q   So the Committee would perform a kind of supervisory function?

A   Not only that. In some countries like the USA there is a tactic which goes like this: You make a very reasonable request, and they say ‘OK, fine, but we have this awful Foreign Affairs Committee and we’ll never get them to approve it. So please show a bit of understanding.’ This gives the government a breathing space. We think we can perform this function too.

 

We would like to help the government to discuss its policies with [relevant parties]. Sometimes the government may take a step which at first glance appears unacceptable, but it may have its own reasons. So it would be able to explain itself here instead of somewhere else.

 

In the US, the Foreign Affairs Committee is very strong. Even the appointments of ambassadors have to be approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee. If only it were like that here…

 

Q   How far is it possible to involve public opinion involved?

A   I have a philosophy which I am personally trying to make sure that my party adopts. Generally, foreign policy falls within a government’s traditional policies. It is closely related to defence and so on. Nevertheless, I believe it should be as transparent as possible. After all, a bad foreign policy ultimately leads you to war. In war it is always the people that pay the highest price. But, for example, when you take a firm stance on a foreign policy issue, maybe the people don’t believe that is the right way to handle the issue. If you find out what the people want, then you can change your policy.

 

Before the famous March 1 vote in Parliament, I went to my constituency in Antalya, and asked them to listen to me explain the situation, and then to go away and sleep on it and consider their interests, and come to a conclusion with their families and friends, and decide whether I should vote Yes or No. In summary, what the people of Antalya said was this: ‘We don’t want a war. Tourism would suffer and there would be lots of problems for agriculture. As far as possible, try to avoid hostilities; try not to get involved in a war. But if you can’t manage it – if it can’t be done – then we will back you whatever decision you take.’ But at least I made up my mind after talking to my own people.

 

In foreign policy, I think you should go to the people and take their opinions, in exactly the same way as you do for economic policy or commercial policy. Once the Foreign Affairs Committee becomes an arena for ideas, then at the same time you will be learning what Turkey thinks outside Parliament – the views of the media, the academic world, people involved in strategic matters. As a result, you would develop better policies with a wider consensus.

 

Q   What about the role of parliamentary delegations, friendship groups and so on?

A   One of the things we are slowly trying to develop is what we call parliamentary diplomacy. This is a little more direct than governmental diplomacy. The sides can put their cases to one another even if they are sometimes far apart. An issue which may be difficult for diplomats to handle may be easy for parliamentarians, because you can’t deny that they represent the people... An agreement reached by way of parliamentary democracy can be very valuable because the member of parliament will then explain it to his own electors. This can lead us to follow more peaceful, softer policies.

 

Q   Is there still an anti-American feeling in parliament? If the March 1 vote were held again would the result be the same?

A   No, it is not a question of anti-Americanism. We have been loyal to our alliance with the US for 50 years. Paul Harris has called it a “troubled alliance”. Sometimes this is true but there are also times, such as the recent visit of US congressmen to Cyprus, when the US is closer to us than Europe. Iraq policy was a different matter. I think they realise that now.

 

Q   It has been suggested that the Turkish parliament may issue retaliatory resolutions against parliaments that have passed Armenian “genocide” resolutions…

A   At the moment there are no preparations for that. Where necessary, we are always on the side of the victims. But why should we make statements about history? When you talk to the French about Algeria, for example, they say, ‘Leave that to historians’. There is a double standard here. But we don’t need to get fanatical like some of the French….

 

Q   What, briefly, are your thoughts on the future of the EU after the French No vote on the proposed constitution?

A   …Until now, the newcomers to the EU have had to change and the EU has stayed the same. Now the EU will have to change… From a very broad perspective the No vote can be looked on as a childhood disease. Such an integration project is being attempted for the first time in the world, and it may take 100 years for everybody to feel the same way about it. The EU has gone a long way towards integration […but…] it has become detached from the people. Consequently [the referendum outcome] will certainly increase the importance of the European Parliament.

 

 

 

(DIPLOMAT  -  June 2005  -  Ankara)