He served as chairman of the Committee on Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs. Additionally, in January 2002, Watson was elected leader of the EP’s Liberal Democrat group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. During his tenure, the Liberal group dramatically increased in size and force, becoming the largest ever third force in the EP.
Although Watson has stepped down from the EP, he still contributes as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as the chairman of the delegation to India.
He has also been elected president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR), which incorporates 55 liberal parties from across Europe. Watson is chair of the global Climate Parliament, which was set up in 2009 to bring together legislators from around the world to work on the issues of climate change.
Watson, who has been a strong supporter of northern Cyprus’s entry into the EU, spoke of his disappointment over the lack of unity in that country, saying, “Cyprus cannot lead the EU by size or strength, and so it must lead by example.”
During a recent debate in Strasbourg, members of the EP discussed the role of Cyprus and what can be done during the next six months with Cyprus as the EU president. Watson further stated: “The citizens of northern Cyprus share with my constituents in Gibraltar the fate of being forgotten people. Both northern Cypriots and Gibraltarians have been failed by the guardians of the EU treaties too timid to take on tough-talkers.”
In a recent interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Watson discussed Cyprus, Turkey and far-right politics in Europe, amongst other topics.
You recently visited Cyprus with a delegation to meet with the ministers in Nicosia. How effective was this visit in terms of Turkish Cypriot participation in the next European parliamentary elections?
I discussed strategies with Turkish Cypriot political leaders and raised the issue with Greek Cypriot ministers, up to and including President [Demetris] Christofias. The European Union should act to ensure the enfranchisement of Turkish Cypriots in the EP. If it does not, the Turkish Cypriots should go to the European Court of Justice, as my constituents in Gibraltar had to, to enforce their rights. I hope we can use the occasion of Cyprus’s presidency of the EU to draw attention to the plight of the inhabitants of northern Cyprus and secure justice for them.
Turkey’s ties with the EU are getting weaker. Do you think this is due to slow negotiations regarding Turkey’s accession talks?
I fear it is due more to the retreat into Christian Orthodoxy in Western Europe and North America, which mirrors the growing hold of Islam in other parts of the world. This is of course reflected in the moves of Christian Democratic parties in the EU countries, over which the Vatican exercises an influence to put a brake on the accession negotiations.
The ongoing disagreement between Turkey and Israel has much to do with the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident [in which an Israeli raid on a humanitarian ship on its way to Gaza resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American]. What, in your opinion, would be a viable option to solve this problem?
In the first instance, Israel should apologize for its actions, which were indefensible. But, of course, both sides need to find issues on which they can cooperate in order to restore good relations. Perhaps talks about the new discoveries of gas in the eastern Mediterranean and how these can be exploited to the benefit of all riparian communities might be a good place to start, combined with cooperation in the development of renewable energy, in which Israel is quite advanced and Turkey has massive untapped potential to exploit.
Freedom of the press in Turkey has recently come under much scrutiny both from within Turkey and from the wider press. What, in your opinion, would be the best approach to Turkey’s current issues vis-à-vis journalists? Do you agree with the government’s actions?
Turkey has to show that it is a reformed country, which means paying particular attention to the freedom of the press. Investigative journalism can be a nuisance to governments, but it is a necessary nuisance since sunlight is the best disinfectant. I am not convinced that all parts of Turkey’s administration have understood this.
The Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases [against clandestine organizations accused of plotting to overthrow the government] have been shaken further with recent events regarding the amendment of Article 250 of the Turkish Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK), causing concern about the future of these trials and investigations. Do you think moving the investigations and trials from special courts and prosecutors to new courts is a setback to solving Turkeys democracy issues?
The issues at stake in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases are serious ones concerning the security and integrity of the state, and governments are sometimes justified in taking particular measures to deal with such cases. Nonetheless, the government’s actions have given rise to concerns about due process of law and civil liberties, and the eyes of the world will be on Turkey as these cases proceed.
Turkey’s first draft of the Ombudsman Law, which aims to bring current legislation in line with the 26-item constitutional amendment package approved in a referendum in 2010, excludes the actions of the Turkish Armed Forces [TSK] from scrutiny. What do you think this means for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey?
The armed forces need scrutiny. The question posed in ancient Rome was, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Which translates as “Who polices the police?” In some democracies, this scrutiny is carried out by specially appointed panels of legislators. Whatever the procedure chosen, the method of scrutiny must ultimately be one which enjoys public confidence.
A recent report by the BBC shows a growing concern for racism in schools. And with the recent racist chants in Euro 2012 football, what does this mean for Europe? Do you think Europe is heading towards far-right politics? If so, how can we overcome this?
I fear that the stagnation of large sections of the European Union’s economy and high levels of unemployment in some countries, particularly among young people, will contribute to the spread of populist ideologies and the search for scapegoats. Cooperation among police forces to kick racism out of football has yielded some success in identifying and bringing to justice those responsible for sowing hatred, but the wider challenge to society of exposing the true nature of right-wing ideologies remains a task with which all democrats must grapple. Constant vigilance is required.