EU drive weighs over US interests
Because of the lobbying efforts of rakı producers, the government was not bowing to pressure to align its laws with European Union standards on value-added tax and excise duties, and eliminate "discriminatory" levies on alcohol and imported tobacco. "I just do not understand. The majority of the rakı producing sector is in the hands of the American firms. We just can not progress on accession talks with the European Union so that the interests of American firms are not hurt," he was saying without hiding his dismay.
Talks on the chapter for taxation finally started last month. Turkey will obviously end up decreasing taxes on imported alcohol.
I personally do not expect Turkish raki drinkers to desert the national drink and convert to the club of "whisky drinkers," in one night just because the prices of imported alcohol have fallen.
But there is an ironic situation: call it neighborhood pressure or being more royalist than the king; with the exception of the strongholds of the "white Turks," such as Istanbul and Izmir, some are facing problems related to the consumption of alcohol in public places. There are serious doubts on the fact that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, wants to impose an alcoholĞfree life style. The irony is that, the AKP will go on record for providing imported alcohol at lower prices.
I am sure some party officials might use this argument to prove that the AKP does not have a hidden agenda.
Meanwhile, one might expect that a lengthy article in daily Milliyet criticizing the opening of talks on the taxation chapter, on the grounds that it will not serve Turkey’s interest, penned by one of the paper’s most prominent columnists, should meet the reaction of the bureaucrats. "On the contrary," said one of them. "At least one journalist took the time and energy to look into the issue. He got it wrong, but then again he showed an interest," he said.
While the press is usually critical of the government’s slow pace to push for reforms to speed up accession talks, the government seems to be complaining about the media’s indifference to the EU process.
Turkey’s chief negotiator Egemen Bağış complained last week of the fact that no one reported about his talks with Czech officials during a visit to Prague, whereas the statement he made upon his return to Turkey relating to opposition leader Deniz Baykal immediately made the headlines.
He has a point. It is a fact that the press is not doing a good job on covering the accession process. Take the latest example. Very few media outlets provided a full fledge analysis on the consequences of starting talks on the chapter for taxation.
Bağış was complaining equally from the stance of the opposition parties. Speaking at a press conference last week to evaluate his first six month in office, he basically placed the blame with opposition parties for the slow pace of reforms.
He was reminded by many of the journalists present at the press conference, however, that in certain instances, it is not the obstruction of the opposition blocking the way for legal amendments.
Take the case for establishing an independent body to investigate corruption. Right now there is no independent body to investigate corruption.
Or take the case of the office for the public procurement. One can hardly say it has full control over public procurement bids. Bağış admitted that part of the delay was caused by the bureaucracy.
Apparently, on the case for the public procurement office, the Treasury has been raising some objections.
Instead of placing the blame on the opposition all the time, Bağış might opt for pushing internal mechanisms. He might not admit it; but this maybe even harder than overcoming the obstacles of the opposition.