A guide to Turkey for newly arriving European diplomats

A guide to Turkey for newly arriving European diplomats

Ambassador Jean Maurice Ripert, the head of the European Commission’s delegation in Ankara, will leave Turkey this week. He will leave Turkey as an EU envoy and go to Moscow as France’s ambassador. As such, one of his tasks will be to convince the Russians to stop supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which will be mission impossible. So, at best, he will try to push the Russians to exert pressure on the regime to reach an agreement for a transition period.

While there is still room for improvement to diffuse the negative air that dominated bilateral ties during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, one of the issues where François Hollande’s government and Turkey seem to be on the same page is the Syrian crisis. Both France and Turkey were equally surprised and frustrated by U.S. President Barack Obama’s last minute decision to put the brakes on a military intervention in Syria. It appears that Turkey and France are trying to find a consolation, saying that it was their resoluteness that has also played a role in pushing the Russians to come up with a deal.

Ripert is leaving Turkey several days after the Commission's progress report - a check list on Turkey’s alignment with the EU’s norms and regulation - was made public. I am sure that was not intended to avoid a possible bashing from Turkish authorities, since nothing similar to last year, when one official even threw the document into trash on live TV, was expected to take place this year.

The new EU ambassador, on the other hand, will (hopefully) make a good beginning, since he or she will see the opening of a new chapter in negotiation talks if he or she is appointed before December. I’d like to use this occasion to provide a humble short guideline for potential newly arriving European diplomats to Turkey, without judging any of the former or currently serving European officials.

The key rule should be to differentiate between those who know how the EU works and those who do not. If you have come across those who are not familiar with the EU, yet frustrated with the 27 nation bloc’s behavior with Turkey, then try to explain to them what a complicated bureaucratic and political machine the EU is and how it is about building a consensus and making compromises, etc.

If, however, you have sensed that your interlocutor looks to be familiar with the EU, then, please, avoid explaining the A to Z of the EU. Because, while you were busy building a career getting expertise on the role of Congress on American decision making, Chinese diplomacy, or non-proliferation, your interlocutor might have spent years on Turkish–EU relations, making at least three visits to Brussels each year. It might be very frustrating to listen to some general explanations when your interlocutor may have more knowledge than you about what has been going on in the Commission’s corridors for decades.

Stay away from the cliché: “We call accession talks negotiations, but actually we don’t negotiate. Turkey has to align itself with the EU’s regulation.”

Also, avoid describing issues as simple technicalities. Your interlocutor knows bloody well that there is a political dimension to everything that looks technical; and if you have not previously worked on EU issues you might be surprised to find out the simplest technical issue can turn into imbroglio because of politics when it is Turkey that we're talking about.

Don’t take public opinion polls too seriously. Yes, they do reflect a frustration in the public, but be aware that if Merkel and Hollande were to make a statement tomorrow saying they want to see Turkey as a member of Europe, public support for EU membership would jump sky high to 80 or even to the 90s in a matter of days.

And one last thing, please avoid the question: “Are you Turks ready to give up your sovereignty?” This is an untimely question. We are nowhere near there; it is therefore extremely irrelevant to raise this issue at this point in time.

At any rate, be sure of Turkish hospitality; as seen in this case, this guide has been provided to you free of charge.