Mehmet Öğütçü & Raymond Saner
Some consider economic and commercial diplomacy to be a fairly recent addition to the work of professional diplomats, who previously tended to concentrate almost exclusively on political tasks. Such diplomacy employs economic resources, either as rewards or sanctions, in pursuit of particular foreign policy objectives. This is sometimes called “economic statecraft”.
Commercial work, like other functional sectors, consular or cultural, was traditionally viewed with disdain, and represented a secondary career track for high-flying diplomats. However, in a globalised and interconnected world, economic and commercial diplomacy has gained added currency and led to persistent calls for “less geopolitics, more economics and commerce”
Turkey’s quest for EU membership will become more realistic, imminent and less threatening if a pro-active economic diplomacy could be pursued, as complementary to the traditional emphasis on the country’s geostrategic importance and bridging role between Islam and the West.
There has been much talk in the streets of Brussels over whether or not the French President Sarkozy will continue blocking Turkey’s EU accession as repeatedly promised during his election campaign and first months of his presidency. He and the German Chancellor Merkel keep referring to a “privileged partnership” with Turkey instead of what the European Commission document published on November 6, 2007 under the heading of “Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2007-2008” envisaged: “accession” as a full member “as soon as the technical conditions are met, in line with the Negotiating Framework of October 2005 and the Council decision of 11 December 2006.”
In the coming period, despite some slow-pedaling in the reform process on the Turkish side over the past few years and significant reluctance on the part of some EU members, the chances of Turkish accession will likely be stronger if Turkey can continue its recent economic recovery at a time of expected global recession and turn it into sustainable growth over the next decade.
This could possibly reduce or eliminate concerns among EU skeptics about Turkish accession being too costly and too destabilizing in economic and social terms. An effective deployment of economic and commercial diplomacy in this context by the Turkish government, private sector and civil society, as well as international organizations in which Turkey is a member will be of great value in clarifying that this 73-million nation will join the EU as an asset and not as a liability.
How to negotiate with the EU?
There have never before been accession negotiations that are so controversial among EU member states and so charged with uncertainties and serious political and economic impediments as Turkish accession is now. It is absolutely essential that both sides should agree on an imaginative, constructive problem-solving approach to produce a successful conclusion of this process. The economic and commercial diplomacy must complement the political considerations now at hand given that Turkey’s economic powerhouse can well impress on the discussions in Brussels, which will for sure not be on the basis of a “business-as-usual” mandate.
Equally or even more important is to ensure that the negotiations will pave the ground for the EU governments at the end of the process to convince their public that Turkey does not enter the Union as an “alien” but as a truly “European” society and state, while at the same time respecting its culture, religion and priorities. This should be declared a priority from the very beginning, i.e. from the formulation of the negotiating mandate for the European Commission. It goes without saying that the process begun by Europe’s leaders in Brussels will have to be completed by the politicians of the future – probably during the lifetime of at least three new governments in each country.
Given the high degree of domestic controversy that the Turkish dossier causes, the governments may not have any interest in keeping the Turkish accession issue visibly on the public agenda until such a time that positive public perception of Turkey could be generated. Most EU leaders would prefer to put the issue on the backburner by “leaving the concrete task of preparing and conducting the negotiations mainly to the European Commission”.
However, it is important that the EU governments commit a greater degree of political attention to the negotiations than they have done in past negotiations. And this attention should be constantly present throughout the accession process and not be restricted to so-called crucial dossiers or crucial moments, such as free movement of people, common agricultural policy, and financial and institutional issues. If it were left to the normal negotiations procedures, the process leading to its conclusion would likely encounter a serious risk of failure along the way. Therefore, accession negotiations are (and must be) aiming at full membership, avoiding the recurrence of discussions about alternatives to Turkish membership.
Considerations about the EU’s ability to function effectively are likely to be a regular feature of the negotiations with Turks. This can result in a slowing down of negotiations if the EU members fear that a premature Turkish accession would overload the Union. It is this concern that already now can be seen behind the almost unanimous declarations by leading EU politicians that Turkish accession would require a period of ten years or more before it could be accomplished. Also the rules for opening and closing each of the 31 chapters ensure the possibility of putting brakes onto the process. Another issue which needs to be addressed by the EU and the Turkish diplomats concerns the Cyprus conflict which in itself will demand creativity and professional competence on all side to find a solution to this long lasting conflict. Without a solving the Cyprus conflict, EU-Turkey negotiations will most likely face another major hurdle which could stall the whole accession process.
Turkish negotiators will naturally react to what they might consider to be an unjustified special, discriminatory, treatment in comparison with other former and even future candidate countries, although they often characterise themselves as a special case in other areas. The Turks are also aware that accession negotiations are not a level playing field, unlike a “classical” negotiation between two states on an equal footing. Accession does not mean a negotiated merger of the Union with a respective candidate, but an intense and often painful process of mostly one-sided adaptation to the EU by a state accepting the Union’s demands for accession. This inherent imbalance in any accession process will likely become accentuated in the case of Turkey, given the fact that the basis of the process is not an invitation by the EU but a decade-long demand and pressure by Turkey.
However, it is important for the Euro-negotiators to take a hard look at Turkey’s particular circumstances. In the course of the negotiations Turks are likely to press for longer transition periods, derogations and financial/technical assistance for the necessary adjustments, as well as for a tactful approach from Brussels to win the hearts of the Turkish public at large.
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 This paper represents the views of its authors and not those of any organisation they are associated with. Mehmet Öğütçü is a London-based senior multinational business executive, a former Turkish diplomat and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) director. He can be reached at email@example.com. Raymond Saner is professor, University of Basle, Switzerland, Organisation and International Management. He also serves as Director, DiplomacyDialogue, CSEND, Geneva. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.