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The Lack of Policy Entrepreneurship in Turkey-EU Relations January 31, 2011

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Turkey.
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After experiencing a ‘golden age’ between 1999 and 2005, Turkey-EU relations plunged into deadlock in the post-2005 period. Many domestic and international factors contributed to the worsening of bilateral relations. On the European side, the failure of Constitutional reform, the problems emerged from the 2004 enlargement and the global financial crisis’ impact on Eurozone occupied the central agenda. On the Turkish side, the political turmoil in the pre and post 2007 general elections, the antagonizing Presidential elections and the ubiquitous Cyprus question automatically downgraded the importance of the EU in the eyes of Turkish policy-makers. Turkey’s changing foreign policy priorities, both as a reason and result of the tightening relations with the EU, also transformed the dynamics of Turkey-EU relations.

Having acknowledged the abovementioned structural factors, nevertheless, there are actor-level problems as well. Arguably, over the last five years, the structural factors have been heavily underlined. As a result, the importance and problem-solving potential of policy entrepreneurs are overlooked. In this context, the actor-level problems were set aside and constructive policies’ role in revitalizing the relationship was significantly underestimated.

Egemen Bagis: A man swimming against the tide?

One of the fundamental shortages in Turkey-EU relations is the lack of policy entrepreneurship on both sides. From Turkey’s point of view, a full-time negotiator at the ministerial level was appointed two years ago. Turkey’s first exclusive Chief Negotiator and Minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bagis, has devoted much ado in order to overcome the long-lasting misperceptions and prejudices. In these two years, 25 laws and 108 secondary legislations had been prepared and entered into force within the framework of the EU harmonisation process. The institutional footing of the Secretariat General for the EU Affairs (EUSG), the governmental body responsible from the coordination of the EU process, was strengthened. Mr. Bagis paid 76 official visits abroad, including Brussels. The EUSG under the directorship of Egemen Bagis appointed Deputy Governors in Turkey’s 81 provinces with the aim of increasing public awareness with regard to the EU and Turkey-EU relations.

So far seems so good and nobody should underestimate the success of Mr. Bagis. In an environment that the most influential European leaders are openly against Turkey’s EU bid and overwhelming majority of the general public in European capitals are hostile towards new enlargement wave, it would be unrealistic to expect policy entrepreneurs to solve all kind of structural problems. Nevertheless, we need to accept that many opportunities were missed.

Missed opportunities

Chief Negotiator is assumed to be a policy entrepreneur that has the skills and experience in mediating the parties and improving bilateral relations. There are mainly two characteristics of policy entrepreneurs, which are ‘coordinative’ and ‘communicative’ roles. In terms of the first one, the policy entrepreneur is expected to coordinate the domestic interest groups around a common agenda so as to create nation-wide synergy. In our case, it refers to the unifying capacity of Chief Negotiator to converge different interest groups around the EU membership target. Arguably, EU membership is one of the most suitable common denominators for creating consensus between right-wing (dominated by the ruling party) and left-wing political strata (lead by main opposition party). The Chief Negotiator, however, did not adequately take advantage of this opportunity. Instead the EU process was used as a political instrument to tame the opposition groups. The overpolitization of the EU process in domestic politics partially exacerbated the political polarization in the country. Yet, with the help of an inclusive coordinative strategy, the EU target would have served as an instrument for dialogue and societal synergy. If the Chief Negotiator’s ‘above the politics’ position would have been used more effectively, the bilateral relations may be better managed.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

The other characteristic of policy entrepreneur is communicative role. By this, the communication abilities of the entrepreneur with the outsides are underlined. In this context, the Chief Negotiator’s ability to communicate with Turkey’s European counterparts is emphasised. It is a fact that Mr. Bagis travelled frequently to European capitals and established close contacts with local interest groups. Undoubtedly, they were influential in shaking out the dusts of historical misperceptions and prejudices. Nevertheless, it is hardly possible to evaluate them as part and parcel of a comprehensive communication strategy, calculated and implemented in terms of country-specific communication problems.

Over the last couple of years, the generalizations have turned out to be the currency in Turkey-EU relations. Most of the Europeans think that “Turks are Muslims, Muslims are fundamentalist and fundamentalism is bad. So they should be excluded from the European project” In a similar vein, most of the Turks assume the EU as a monolithic bloc that is against Turkey’s membership. Hence, most of the time, both parties have thrown the baby out with the bath water! The political elite, the Chief Negotiator inter alia, did not do too much to change this over caricaturization of anti-Turkish sentiments in Europe. No comprehensive communication strategy, project or plan was put into implementation, for example, to understand the specific root-causes of anti-Turkish motivations in Germany, France and Austria. As a result, the rhetoric dethroned reality and the white-black dichotomy triumphed in the reciprocal ‘blame game’.

In summary, the existing deadlock in Turkey-EU relations does not satisfy most of the integrationists in Turkey and in the EU. We can underline many structural obstacles for the existing stalemate. Especially, the political, ideational and economic turmoil in the EU occupies the central agenda. Nevertheless, there is still a large room for policy entrepreneurs to manoeuvre. Turkey’s Chief Negotiator is one of these policy entrepreneurs. Obviously, his team did many things in cleaning Turkey’s European path. Yet, they need to work harder in terms of ‘coordinative’ and ‘communicative’ strategies. Both Turkey and the EU must put emphasis on these issues in order not to throw the baby out with the bath water!

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