The European Union’s new representative in Turkey is constantly on the move to explain to ordinary Turks how their lives are being changed by the membership process and is pleased with the well-informed responses.
AYDIN - Turkish Daily News
The face of the EU is the head of the European Commission delegation to Turkey, and the new one seems like an improved version of his predecessors, who attracted the ire of much of the society for matters beyond their control.
�We know that Mr. Pierini is a very professional energetic diplomat, full of love for human beings. He makes Turkey's arguments with the European Union,� said the governor of Aydın while greeting Marc Pierini, the new head of European Commission delegation to Turkey.
It is not very often that an EU envoy is greeted so warmly in Turkey. Especially if one recalls the reaction to Karen Fogg, whose personal e�mails were leaked to the press.
Looking over the past 15 years or so, Michael Lake, the former head of the European Commission delegation from 1991 to 1998, had left a very positive mark in Ankara. (Obviously to what degree the fact that his origins from New Zealand played a role in that remains an open question.) The same however cannot be said of Hans Jörg Kretchmer, Pierini's predecessor. �He had a patronizing style. He would not comprehend Turkey's sensitivities,� said a Turkish official about Kretshmer. Contrary to the public perception, Fogg worked genuinely for the improvement of Turkish-EU relations. She however, became the victim of her personality and looked in the end like an elephant in a porcelain shop.
After a year and a half, Pierini seems to have left a positive impression with his Turkish interlocutors. After all, the governor of Aydın who met Pierini for the first time would not have uttered these words if he had not been briefed by Ankara.
Actually Pierini came to Turkey when public support for the EU was at its lowest. He believes however the picture is not so bleak �I am not basing myself on opinion polls,� he said, adding, �It's volatile. It goes up and down. I am basing myself on my discussions.�
From Parliament corridors to waste treatment plants
�There is certain disenchantment among politicians due to certain anti�Turkish signals coming from the EU. But when I talk to the people, it's another story. They know the politics of accession is one thing, and the basic values of accession are another thing. Whatever the politics of accession, the average Turk that I meet understands the benefits of accession,� he said.
He seems to revel in creating occasions to meet the man on the street, getting away from the ivory towers of Ankara. At a time when all the spotlights are on Ankara with the debates over the closure case, Pierini spent two days in the Aegean region last week in temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius, visiting EU-funded waste treatment plants. �When I sit in my office in Ankara, my staff tells me everything is working well. But I want to see it with my own eyes,� he said explaining the reason of his visit to the mayor of Söke, a small town near Aydın.
Comparing Hamsiköy to South of France:
He seems to have been extremely impressed by a visit to a small village called Hamsiköy near the Black Sea town of Trabzon.
�It was the most remote place to discuss EU enlargement,� he recounted. �We organized a meeting in a small coffee shop, with 40 to 60 men, unfortunately no women. For two hours, we spoke about EU enlargement, (outlawed) Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, Armenian issue, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, you name it. I could not stop them. At the beginning it was a bit hostile, but then it became very friendly. I was fascinated. It's one of my best memories. I wish 10 percent of my relatives and friends in the South of France knew about the EU as much as they do. People of Hamsiköy were much better informed.�
Pierini tries to get in touch with all sectors of the society, said a Turkish diplomat who knows him. �He tries to understand society and look at issues from different angles,� he said of Pierini.
During a visit to an old dump site near Kuşadası, which will cease to exist with the construction of a new solid waste treatment plant, he inquired about what will become of the scavengers. �For us it is important that the modernization project does not give way to social problems,� he said.
Pierini seems to be conscious of the importance of public diplomacy. The fact that he worked in countries like Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, countries with predominantly Muslim populations certainly contributed to his understanding of different cultures. He seems to be aware of cultural habits in Turkey. He never turns down an offer for tea. Seeing plates full of fresh fruits at the office of mayor of Aydın reminds him that he is from Marseille and France, he said.
Seeing those fruits make him feel at home, he told the mayor, a gesture certainly destined to please his host.
He tries to explain the different aspects of the accession process. "One part of the process is technical negotiations. There are difficulties as far as the negotiations are concerned, but we have good news. We recently opened two chapters. But when we say we opened two more chapters that does not mean much to the citizens," he said while talking to the representatives of local administrations. And then he added, "But negotiations are only half the story. The other half is the pre-accession programs through which we are trying to improve the living standards of ordinary citizens." Pierini attaches great importance to the pre-accession projects.
Everywhere he goes he explains the logic behind them. "These projects are not there to replace Turkish regulations. They are there to help adjustment to EU regulations."
For Pierini the involvement of all the stakeholders is important. That's why within the framework of the rehabilitation project of the Büyük Menderes River he meets with farmers, fishermen and local NGOs since their contribution to the economy has decreased tremendously due to pollution.
One cannot find Pierini's name in newspaper headlines. Although the press would have preferred for him to be more talkative, he prefers to keep a low profile. "He is trying his best to keep it moving. He has brought a breath of fresh air," said a Turkish diplomat based in Europe. He also added that the same is valid for the whole Commission. "Thanks to the Commission the process continues. We recently opened a chapter on copyrights. Our record on that issue is worse than the Chinese in certain sectors. But the Commission still pushed to open it."
With all the anti-Turkish rhetoric in Europe, it comes as a relief to know that Turkey has some allies.