Requiem for a defunct ministry

Published 16.07.2018 23:38

The new administrative structure of Turkey is slowly taking shape. As it is a brand new presidential system, the decision-making process is still being formed. Required amendments for the harmonization to the new system are being made, albeit belatedly. Some of the major restructuring has included combining a number of ministries.

The process of decreasing the number of ministries through consolidation or downgrading others to state undersecretariats is not new. Practically every new government wants to decrease its number of government branches to create better cooperation at the level of the Cabinet. Over time, due to new policies and sometimes the need to create branches, this number tends to gradually increase.

In time, when there were coalition governments, there was usually a plethora of different branches, or "state ministries," without basis established to respect political balances among different parties. With the single-party governments since 2002, the number of ministries has increased only slightly, mostly to address the problems and demands stemming from new policies.

This time, the restructuring seemed deeper because of the new presidential system. Nevertheless, one branch that has been eliminated but not noticed was the Ministry of the EU, which has been downgraded to a department in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. It disappeared as a sui generis institution, instrumental in coordinating EU harmonization.In fact, there should never have been a "Ministry" of the EU for Turkey. The model that was used in the beginning was that of a "permanent general secretariat" that would respond to the prime minister and that would remain a "nonexecutive coordinating institution." This was the French model, where a "secrétariat général permanent" under the authority of the prime minister, coordinates and supervises all the relations of the French administration pertaining to EU affairs.

Since the customs union between Turkey and the EU was negotiated in the early 1990s, there has been an incredible amount of time spent by civil servants in the State Planning Organization, the Undersecretariat to Foreign Trade, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Undersecretariat to the Treasury, the Finance Ministry and private sector representatives, mostly from the Economic Development Foundation (IKV), to coordinate these negotiations. The need to have a particular institution to coordinate all the negotiation strategy was blatant.

This took some time though because of the rigid traditions of Turkish bureaucracy. The Foreign Affairs Ministry did not want to share its prerogative to conduct external negotiations with any other institution. However, over time, some agreements emerged within the state apparatus to create a sui generis institution for the EU; this is how the EU General Secretariat was created. At its inception, it was still answering to the Foreign Affairs Ministry; it took a lot of time to attach the secretariat to the Prime Ministry.

Why the Prime Ministry? Because to coordinate the implementation of harmonization with the EU, any institution in Turkish bureaucracy needed to speak in the name of the premier's authority to be respected. That was the essential idea behind establishing a general secretariat. Immense work has been carried out under the authority of the secretariat, usually led by a senior diplomat and regrouping brilliant civil servants.

Turning the secretariat into a full-fledged ministry was a bad idea, especially before full membership. Still, this has been done at a time when our institutional relations with the EU were dropping and the harmonization effort was stalled; so it has gone unnoticed.

Totally dismissing an "EU ministry," as it has been done today, can be a complex message to send abroad at a time when Turkish foreign policy and financial situation are under duress and close scrutiny. Even in the absence of good relations with the EU, the administrative structure should be kept working. History has shown that the harmonization attempts with the EU have never been vain in any candidate country. It would have been a very strong message to send to the international circles that the "Copenhagen criteria" is still considered "Ankara criteria," and implemented despite all odds.

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