Article 75; the Knell for the Environment

Article 75; the Knell for the Environment

While the state of emergency declared after the coup attempt on July 15 continues, the Turkish Parliament on August 20th adopted a bill consisting of 75 articles, whereby the last one, Article 75, is among other things about the establishment of a Sovereign Wealth Fund. This article will give the Cabinet an above-the-rule-of-law right to offer financial and administrational incentives to controversial infrastructure projects. 218 AKP Parliamentarians voted in favor of the bill, whereas only 4 parliamentarians from the opposition parties HDP and CHP who were present at the discussions at around 04.45 am in the morning, voted against it. Civil society organizations and local ecological resistance movements ran a campaign for the cancellation of the article, which they perceive as a serious risk for the environment. The groups claim that the article will stop the currently existing oversight mechanism for these projects called EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). With the lifting of the right to public oversight, the article actually becomes an unconstitutional statute, because it violates the article of the constitution which defines sovereignty as belonging to the people. It gives the cabinet a position above the public and the rule of law by making the decision without any public participation. Despite massive public opposition, the article passed.

What exactly is article 75 about and what is its meaning for the environment? Article 75 ‘Supporting investments in accord with the scale of projects’ authorizes the cabinet to exempt certain infrastructure projects, that due to being controversial are in need of passing standard legal procedures, from the mandatory application of procedures such as  permissions, licenses, allotments, and environmental as well as social impact assessments. The article consists of 7 paragraphs. Paragraph 1 and related sub-paragraphs enable the investors to claim the immoveable property of the state, including land, after having supplied employment opportunities for 5 years. Environmental protection areas and national parks which are state land could thereby easily be passed into private property. In the 5th paragraph of the article the cabinet is defined as the only authority for all decisions concerning infrastructure projects allowing the government to bypass environmental law and legislation in case of legal conflicts. In the past such projects have often led to intense resistance from local farmers, land owners and others as projects such as roads, damns and airports have threatened to destroy their livelihoods.

The 7th paragraph of the article regulates the transfer of investments; accordingly if an investment will transfer to another company, this will also be exempt from related legislation and will have access to subsidies. The uncertainty of transfer conditions and the risk they bear for unfair competition, unfair profit seeker and rant is another area of concern of the opposition. Moreover, the parliamentary opposition focused on the fact that the article cancels transparency and accountability for the involved companies, since the initial decisions made by the cabinet are not bound by legal regulations. The oppositional – especially local- ecology movements, believe that the article is designed to block their resistance for the sake of company interests. AKP Parliamentarian Şükrü Erinç who is the chair of the Plan and Budget Commission stated that the cabinet will take the decisions when necessary to accelerate investments. Furthermore Mehmet Özhaseki, the Minister of Environment stated that the Environmental Impact Assessment constituted such an obstacle for investments, that it must either be lifted or changed. 

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