31 Mart 2008

Fine-tuning Turkey’s Economic and Commercial Diplomacy in support of its EU accession process

Mehmet Öğütçü & Raymond Saner[1]

(Many thanks to the authors for their permission to publish this study in Düşünce Kahvesi.)

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"[2].

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
[4]. 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
[7]. 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.[8]

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.

Need for change in mindset and institutional structures

Professional boundaries between business and diplomacy have gradually become blurred. States champion economic development and trade relations in today's global economy, which is increasingly interconnected and interdependent. Foreign Service, government, business, and universities need each other's special expertise to be effective in the global market place. The Internet has also changed greatly the power relationship.

In this new era, European and Turkish diplomats should be geared towards better articulating and executing a sound, well-resourced and result-oriented economic/commercial diplomacy at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. It would be unfair to discount the hard and diligent work performed by many Turkish diplomats in support of economic diplomacy initiatives; but the root problem has been that their efforts are not part of a well-defined and institutionalized strategy that strives to achieve synergies with other governmental departments and the private sector under strong political leadership.

Hence, energetic personal efforts or inclusion of hundreds of commercial diplomats and business diplomats in the entourage of the Prime Minister during foreign visits are not the solution if the groundwork has not been properly done. There is an acute need for a serious fine-tuning of the mindsets and institutional rigidities to reconcile the divergence of understanding and interests between those who pursue the maximization of private profits and those who seek to maximize the public good and benefits. The end-result that we all strive to achieve should be to enhance the country’s competitiveness, prosperity in the global system while at the same time ensuring its security and foreign policy goals.

What else can be done?

It would be unfair to discount the hard and diligent work performed by many Turkish diplomats in support of economic and commercial diplomacy initiatives, but the root problem has been that their efforts are not part of a well-defined and institutionalized strategy that strives to achieve synergies with other governmental departments and the private sector under strong political leadership.

It is true that, whichever way one looks at it, the geography of Turkey is unique. Turkey is the eastern frontier of Europe and the western frontier of Asia. It is at the same time a part of the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The Balkans is its access to Western Europe. The Black Sea is a bond between Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. The Caucasus is its opening to China over the Central Asian republics. And finally, the Middle East and the Mediterranean link it with the Arab peninsula and Africa.

However, there is little evidence of the effective use that Turkey has made of such a wide international exposure, particularly for establishing or consolidating its market presence in these regions. In most of the foreign trade and investment statistics of Southeast Europe, Central Asia, Russia, Ukraine and Caucasus, Turkey trails behind many OECD countries.

There is certainly room for a wider, imaginative economic diplomacy in these regions, but not the types of the initiatives such as the Black Sea Economic Co-operation, the Economic Co-operation Organization, the D-8 or the Turkic Summit process, which were announced with great fanfare but have not (so far) progressed much due to the lack of clear leadership and a vigorous follow-up of their agenda. The need is strongly felt for Turkey to consider the relative importance and perceived benefits of such initiatives that it launched and come up with a realistic assessment of its priorities believed to serve the foremost economic (and foreign policy) interests.

There should be a clear vision of how all these elements can be transformed into Turkey's economic and trade interests in concrete terms, who should be in charge of their implementation and what the benchmarks would be by which to judge their performance. Otherwise, the rhetoric will continue to prevail.

Some areas where action will be needed by the Turkish Government include, inter alia:

· Lead a renaissance of professionalism. Replacing outdated practices of workforce management, creating new professional opportunities, and making a commitment to sustained professional development are required to change the existing business/diplomacy culture. Therefore, there is need to reform personnel practices by recruiting regional and management specialists and creating an economic and commercial diplomacy service to augment the career service with functional expertise, and create electronically-linked teams to take advantage of the expertise of area and functional specialists serving in far-flung locations.

· Upgrade information technology to corporate standards. The acquisition of new technologies must be geared to supporting the key priorities of diplomacy. To this end, an information strategy should be developed, supportive of democratization and transparency in international relations; and a state-of-the-art computers and electronic c connectivity should be set up for the effective acquisition, management and dissemination of information.

· Move economic and commercial diplomacy from the sidelines to the core of diplomacy. Diplomacy must be proactive in promoting Turkish policies and values, and interactive in engaging domestic and foreign publics. For this purpose, it is essential to re-define public diplomacy to include education and early public engagement in the conduct of diplomacy, and amend legislation to improve communication with the Turkish public; and inaugurate a Global Affairs presence on the Internet to strengthen international cooperation and address global issues.

· Focus greater attention and higher priority on economic diplomacy. To ensure Turkish competitiveness in the global economy, Turkey must strengthen its ability to expand regional and global markets and assist Turkish business abroad. In this context, Turkish Business & Information Centers in the Big Emerging Markets should be established, to be managed by a public-private consortium; and an officer-exchange program between Turkish business and government should be initiated to strengthen commercial representation abroad.

Final word

The history of European integration is one of innovation in design and policy. Trans-national processes are continually being innovated - that is why the EU can take on enlargement. As a new member, Turkey will bring aspects that current members will also have to adapt to. Therefore, rather than focusing on the results of individual reforms, the 'accession process' should be geared towards assisting Turkey's transformation in a constructive way.

The new Turkish politicians are more willing to change and are more receptive to influences from the outside than in the past[9]. It is now necessary to take advantage of this historic opportunity to influence Turkish politics and its economy through the process of accession negotiation.

More importantly, the EU leaders should judge Turkey on the basis of its potential economic and geostrategic importance from today to 2023 and what the future holds for Europe by then - not on the narrow and short-term interests of today. With Turkey the EU will gain not only a rich cultural diversity, but also a considerable manufacturing capacity, entrepreneurship, and better foreign security policy outreach to the key regions of the world, i.e. Russia, the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Two terms of government may suffice to fundamentally change the face of Turkey for the better, while the EU will also be going through changes. One should recall that the founding father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, had accomplished the bulk of his revolutionary modernising vision for the country in a period of only 15 years (1923-1938) and did so between the two destructive world wars and in great deprivation. Even more can be achieved over the next two decades in the era of rapid globalisation.

Then, it is not science-fiction to predict that both Turkey and the EU will be starkly different from what they are today and it is in their hands to shape their common future starting now, rather than speculating on the fears to come.

Full-text available (pdf/27pages), click here

[1] 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 ogutcudunya@yahoo.co.uk. 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 saner@diplomacydialogue.org.

[2] Raymond Saner, L. Yiu, International Economic Diplomacy: Mutations in Post-modern Times, Discussion Papers in Diplomacy, Netherlands Institute of International Relations “Clingendael”, s.10. http://www.transcend.org/t_database/pdfarticles/318.pdf

[3] Turkey's pre-accession strategy, consulted at europa.eu/scadplus/leg/en/lvb/e40113.htm

[4] Turkey and the EU: How to achieve a forward-looking and mutually beneficial accession by 2014, Mehmet Ogutcu, 24 March 2005, http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=8699

[5] Whither Turkey’s EU Accession? Perspectives and Problems After December 2004, Heinz Kramer at http://www.aicgs.org/c/kramer_turkey.shtml

[6] Ibid. Heinz Kramer

[7] « Changing Parameters in U.S.-German-Turkish Relations: Future Scenarios”, held on September 20, 2004 in Berlin. AICGS Advisor, September 30, 2004.

[8] For more information on the complexities of the Cyprus conflict see: “External Stakeholder Impacts on Official and Non-Official Third-Party Interventions to Resolve Malignant Conflicts: The case of a failed intervention in Cyprus” by Raymond Saner and Lichia YiuCenter, International Negotiations”, 6,3, 2001 ed. William Zartman.

[9] Turkey's New Politics and the European Union, Pieter Ott, December 2003, http://www.ceps.be/Article.php?article_id=172

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