Turkey's military loses its budget autonomy

Thursday, May 13, 2004

ANKARA Turkey's powerful military has lost its budget autonomy under a constitutional amendment ratified as part of Ankara's campaign to join the European Union.

Under the amendment, the government and parliament would be guaranteed access to spending details by all arms of the military. The government would also be provided with sole authority in approving the military's budget.

The amendment appeared to have ended the military's longtime dominance over the nation's security and defense policy. Until now, the General Staff, through its control of leading official bodies, was assured of the last word in determining the size of the military and spending priorities.

Officials said the General Staff would no longer be allowed to plead national security to prevent a government and parliamentary audit of the military budget. They said that under the amendment, the Defense Ministry would have the authority to supervise the military's modernization and procurement programs.

On May 7, the government of Prime Minister Recep Erdogan amended 10 articles of Turkey's constitution to fulfill EU requirements for membership.

Officials said the amendments were required as part of the EU conditions to obtain a date for formal talks to enter the 25-nation body. EU leaders will decide whether to give Turkey such a date during their meeting in December 2004.

The constitutional amendments require approval by Turkish President Ahmet Sezer. The military has quietly expressed concern that the amendments passed by the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party would erode the military's role in maintaining Turkey as a secular state and allow Islamic fundamentalists to assume key positions in government.

But that didn't stop the 550-member parliament from overwhelmingly passing the amendments. The amendment that would allow a parliamentary audit of the military was passed by a vote of 453-4.

Parliament also voted 459-6 to eliminate the state security courts. The courts were employed to prosecute suspected insurgents and separatists.

The amendments also ensured the removal of military officers from a range of government panels. They included panels that oversee higher education and broadcasting, which had long been under the control of the General Staff in an effort to ensure that Turkey did not turn into an Islamic state.

EU leaders expressed satisfaction over the amendment of Turkey's constitution. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said he envisions Turkey becoming a key member of the EU in defense and military affairs.

"If the EU wants to be a global actor it should have a military capacity, so cooperation with Turkey is inevitable at this point," Michel said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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