EU head Juncker gives no mission statement for Turkey

EU head Juncker gives no mission statement for Turkey

Exactly last year, at around this time, just as the European Commission was about to release its progress report on Turkey, we found out that the Commission’s envoy in Ankara, Jean Maurice Ripert, had been appointed as France’s new ambassador to Moscow.

We are just couple of weeks away from the announcement of this year’s progress report and we have just found out that Ripert’s successor, Stefano Manservisi, is returning to Brussels for a senior position in the Cabinet of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s new foreign policy chief. So first Ripert, then Manservisi were promoted. Even that fact is enough to show the importance of Turkey for the Commission. After all, the delegation in Ankara is the EU's largest anywhere in the world.

Even the most uninformed person would know that Turkey constitutes the biggest portfolio when it comes to EU enlargement. But apparently it does not, at least according to the Commission’s new president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Last week, Juncker did a first, sending a mission letter to each of the commissioners, telling them what he expects from them. This is what he said in his letter to Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement:

“The focus of your work should be on strengthening the EU’s political and economic ties with its Southern and Eastern neighborhood ... Following the extensive enlargement of the Union in the last decade, the next five years will be a period of consolidation, with no further enlargement taking place during our mandate. You will be responsible for continuing ongoing enlargement negotiations, notably with the Western Balkans.”

So, no mention of Turkey.

Juncker has made no secret that there will not be further enlargement during his mandate. A European told me the following: “His statement really only affects countries like Serbia or Montenegro. We all know that Turkey won’t be a member in five years."

But it is one thing to say “we will not take in a new member over the next five years,” and another thing to totally ignore Turkey’s accession process. Or are we to consider Turkey to be a part of the Western Balkans?

Juncker continued in his letter with instructions about what he expects Hahn to focus on. In the following five points there was mention of Ukraine and even Africa.

The irony is that each letter to the all the commissioners starts with the same paragraph, in which Juncker says: “We have an exceptional opportunity, but also an obligation, to make a fresh start, to address the difficult geo-political situation, to strengthen economic recovery and to build a Europe that delivers jobs and growth for its citizens.”

In other words, Juncker plans to address the difficult geo-political situation by ignoring Turkey.

Obviously, that can’t be and won’t be the case. I imagine that we will see Mogherini several times in Turkey. In fact, I was told by a European diplomat that Mogherini will assume the political dimension of the negotiations; in other words, she won’t just take up regional and international developments with Turkey, but also conduct political dialogue with Ankara, while the technical side of the negotiations will be taken up by Hahn. That’s apparently why Hahn was also asked to work closely with her in the mission letter. This is already a brand new structure and even some members of the Commission admit there will be difficulties ahead.

The European Commission no longer has a commissioner for enlargement, and apparently it was only due to last minute efforts that the word "enlargement" was inserted into the title of the Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy. All this is being done to send a message to the European public, which is suffering from enlargement fatigue.

However, all of this gives very negative signals to the Turkish public. Not that the public at large is much aware of the details. Still, it certainly is a source of disappointment and discouragement for those who are fighting for better democratic standards in Turkey.