Dec 29 2008
Turkey and France both refrain from signing a convention on the protection of minorities. A Council of Europe official warns Ankara it will feel the pressure during European Union negotiations, while Turkish officials point at Paris as an explanation for their opposition, saying Turkey honors its obligations under the Lausanne Treaty.
Turkey and France, whose paths are divergent on many issues in the European Union, from human rights standards to political criteria, are sticking to their guns over the ratification of a document on the protection of minorities.
Eight of 47 Council of Europe member states have refused to ratify the framework convention for the protection of national minorities. France and Turkey are the two countries that have never signed or ratified it.
"For both Turkey and France, it is difficult to reconcile the recognition of certain groups as minority groups with the principle of equality for all citizens irrespective of their ethnic,
linguistic, cultural and religious backgrounds," Alain Chablais, head of the Secretariat of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review in a telephone interview.
Turkey and France base their arguments on constitutional grounds and argue the signing of the document would jeopardize the principle of equality among their citizens.
Both countries say every citizen is free to have his own religion, language and cultural background, but argue it is not up to the state to recognize or provide official support for specific ethnic identities.
Less participation "We do not share that argument, because the framework convention sets equality and non-discrimination as key principles, which are also enshrined in many other treaties like the European Convention on Human Rights," said Chablais.
He said the convention also required state parties to take special measures in favor of disadvantaged minority groups to ensure they enjoyed equality with the majority in practice. Persons who belong to a minority are in a disadvantaged position in many fields, he said,
adding that they participate less in public and political life and they have few opportunities to be educated in their mother tongue. "This (applying special measures) is considered fully compatible with the principle of equality by most European states," said Chablais.
While opposing ratification of the convention, Turkey consistently says it honors its obligations stemming from the Lausanne Treaty, the founding document of the Turkish Republic, which provides that Armenians, Greeks and Jews are national minorities. Turkish authorities
also say its Constitution does not allow for a recognition of other minority groups, as that would create a different status more favorable to other ethnic groups and would violate the principle of equality among its citizens.
The convention on minorities did not exist at the time Turkey and France joined the Council of Europe. After the 10 founding member states including France, Turkey was one of the first countries to become a member in 1949, meaning there was no legally binding
commitment for the two to sign the convention. But European officials say Turkey will feel pressure to sign and ratify the convention as part of the EU negotiations.
"The signing of the convention is not part of the Acquis Communitaire, but is explicitly mentioned in the Copenhagen political criteria," said Chablais. Turkish officials, however, point to EU member France to explain their opposition.
"This is of course an understandable reply by Turkish authorities in theory, but if Turkey sincerely wishes to share European values and join the EU I think that is no longer a sustainable argument," said Chablais.
He said the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms in the countries was tremendously different.
"In practice, France has a number of minority groups which enjoy education and language rights without any impediment, but in Turkey, you cannot put up street names in Kurdish for example, and you cannot open public schools that teach Kurdish. It is impossible." Aside from Turkey and France, Greece, Belgium, Iceland, Andorra, Monaco and Luxembourg have not ratified the convention on minorities.