Two ministers, two different ‘European visions’

No one should be surprised if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan invites Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Minister for European Union Affairs Egemen Bağış to develop a “unified discourse” on the EU issue, as there are stark differences in the two ministers’ approach to relations. 

A day before the EU’s progress report on Turkey was published, Bağış said: “I tell my European counterparts that they should not think that they can tire us out. We are a country that waited for 45 years to get a start date for membership negotiations.”
A good-intentioned “counterpart” with a positive view on Turkey’s EU membership will understand what Bağış meant to express with these words. However, in light of the current erection of a Berlin-Paris wall against Turkey, the minister’s words are open to manipulation. The minister’s statements could be interpreted to mean there is a possibility Turks will be kept in the EU’s waiting room for several more years to come. Bağış is known to have a good rapport with Europe and the West, and Davutoğlu views the EU as a crucial “modernization project.” From this perspective, there is no discrepancy. However, there are serious differences in the way they approach the issue and, as a consequence, in their styles as well. From what we can tell, Davutoğlu’s approach doesn’t include waiting around the EU’s door for another 45 years if necessary. That kind of outlook actually conflicts with his policy of “multi-course, multidimensional” relations, which is the most basic principle of the new period of Turkish foreign policy. 

Bağış made another statement that isn’t quite compatible with Turkey’s new foreign policy. In the same speech mentioned above, he said, “If Turkey did not have deficiencies to be mentioned in the report, it would already be an EU member.”

Really? It’s truly surprising to see a minister responsible for EU affairs form a sentence like that so easily. If the sentence had been, “Turkey cannot be an EU member without overcoming the deficiencies to be mentioned in the report,” then there would have been no problem. That could very well be correct. But it is known that there were many countries in the post-Cold War bloc that were given membership without having fully met the Copenhagen Criteria. The expression that we would be an EU member if we did not have deficiencies is a naive approach that isn’t quite compatible with “new Europe realities.”

Barçın Yınanç, a fellow journalist who keeps an ear to rumors circulating in the corridors of the Foreign Ministry, reported in the Referans daily last week that “cold winds were blowing” between Davutoğlu and Bağış. This news should not take us by surprise given the different approaches mentioned above.

In a period when the Sarkozy-Merkel front, which saw success in the elections in Germany, is preparing to be more “straightforward” -- which can be interpreted to mean they will communicate clearer messages that Turkey should not wait for full membership -- “determination” and “consistency” in messages to the EU are much more important.

Erdoğan might have to “fine-tune” this issue in the near future. For there are two ministers, with one saying: “The nature of Turkey-EU relations is no longer one of technical negotiations. We want the EU to see Turkey’s potential in shifting it from being a continental power to a global power,” and the other saying, “We will be an EU member if we overcome our deficiencies; we waited 45 years to get a date to start negotiations.”

The prime minister’s “fine-tuning” is essential for “integrated foreign policy.”

Gürkan Zengin

zengingurkan@gmail.com

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