After Turkey's 17th general elections held on 12 June 2011, the first Turkish EU Ministry was established in Turkey. The former chief negotiator Egemen Bağış became the first Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator on the Establishment of the Ministry of EU Affairs. Since it is supposed to replace the Secretariat General for the EU Affairs, many EU experts and politicians, not only in Turkey but also in the EU, consider that it constitutes a significant institutional improvement.
On 3rd March 1998, the `European Strategy for Turkey` was initiated by the European Commission and in 2000, the Turkish Secretariat General for EU Affairs was established. During its eleven years of work, it has been emphasized many times that among the most important subjects dealt with by this institution was the improvement of Turkey`s European strategy. Nowadays, it is said that the primary concern for the new EU Ministry is to improve the EU Communication strategy. This newly established ministry has fifteen directorates - such as the Directorate for Accession Policy, EU Law, Agricultural and Fisheries and Political Affairs – and a department of Strategic Development. While not much of a change in terms of budget and staff is anticipated, it has been decided that until a regularization is made by the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry’s 2011 expenditures will be covered by the General Secretariat’s budget.
Ever since the ministry was established, a pressing question has been how the ministry will contribute to Turkey's full membership to the EU and whether this institution is actually relevant. On the one hand, many consider this development as a proof of Turkey’s desire to upgrade its relations with the EU; on the other hand, others argue that it is an unnecessary step since the relations between EU and Turkey are likely to be frozen in the second half of 2012 when Cyprus takes on the EU presidency. The situation seems rather serious as PM Erdogan stated during his two-day visit in Northern Cyprus that no solution to this problem could be found.
Still a long way to go…
3 October 2005 is considered as a milestone in EU-Turkey relations as the EU decided to start accession negotiations with Turkey. Since then, negotiations required arduous efforts on both sides, mostly due to the Cyprus problem. Out of 35 chapters, only 13 have been opened and according to many politicians and EU experts, there is still a long way to go for Turkey to become a member of the Union. It is also worth mentioning that recently, Turkey has been struggling with internal political difficulties after the resignation of top level Turkish military leaders and the resurgence of terrorism in the eastern part of the country.
Will the Turkish EU Ministry be a solution in the long run?
Despite PM Erdogan’s threat of freezing relations with the EU under Cyprus’ presidency, Egemen Bağış was optimistic about Turkish membership in the near future. In one of his statements, Bağış affirmed that the “government's decision to transform the decade-old Secretariat General for the EU Affairs into a full-fledged Ministry, which will continue reporting directly to the Prime Minister, is a significant message to the EU that Turkey keeps up the impetus in its determined drive towards EU membership despite all political obstacles on its negotiation process.” Within the EU, the creation of the new Ministry was welcome. Marc Pierin - the head of the Delegation of the EU to Turkey - has recently described the establishment of the new EU Ministry as a positive step. On 13 July, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle congratulated Egemen Bağış on his recent appointment.
Despite these positive reactions on the EU side, many still consider it as an unnecessary step. If we have a closer look at other candidate countries, such as Croatia, Iceland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro, Turkey is the only country that has established a ‘Ministry of EU affairs’. In the other four candidate countries, relations with the EU have been conducted either via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration as in Croatia and Montenegro or simply the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as in Iceland and in the Republic of Macedonia.
Many researchers consider the year 2010, during which only the chapters on Food Safety, Veterinary & Phytosanitary Policy were opened, as an inefficient year with regards to EU-Turkey relations and they do not expect a positive improvement till the end of 2011. Today, it is still a mystery how the EU Ministry will contribute to EU-Turkey relations while the latter are going through difficult times.
Illustration : Turkish Flags by Tolga Musato on Flickr.