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19th Sep 2020

Turkish PM hires top PR firm in EU capital

  • Davutoglu casts his ballot (Photo: Turkish government)

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu has hired a top PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, to improve his overseas image following Turkish elections.

Karen Massin, the CEO of its Brussels office, told EUobserver on Friday (6 November) the contract began Tuesday, just two days after Turkish people gave his AKP party an absolute majority.

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“The company is providing communication support to highlight the prime minister’s leading role in international efforts to address the refugee crisis and his commitment to open dialogue and consensus, which is crucial to ensuring the stability and future prosperity of Turkey,” she said.

The client, as listed in Burson-Marsteller’s entry in the European Commission transparency register, is the “Office of [the] Prime Minister of Turkey.”

It says the work is worth less than €9,999.

Government contracts in the EU capital can be worth €60,000 a month. But the low figure might reflect the early nature of the relationship.

Burson-Marsteller, a US company, had a turnover of almost €10 million in Brussels last year, and is one of the city’s biggest lobby firms.

The company's Berlin, London, Paris, and Washington offices are also working on the Davutoglu file.

Its activities so far include setting up background briefings with journalists and the PM’s press team, with a view to lining up interviews in Ankara.

Erdogan

European and US media, over the past 18 months, have highlighted Turkey’s slide toward authoritarianism under the AKP president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His riot police have beaten and killed pro-democracy protesters.

He has tried to hush up corruption scandals by sacking prosecutors and rigging the judiciary.

He has also launched a crackdown on government-critical media, prompting election monitors, last week, to say the AKP victory was “unfair”, and due, in part, to a “rapidly diminishing choice of media outlets and restrictions on freedom of expression.”

But as Massin’s remark on “open dialogue” indicates, Burson-Marsteller is portraying Davutoglu as a moderate and relatively independent figure.

It notes that, during the election campaign, he held meetings with Kurdish groups, as well as AKP-critical artists, journalists, and intellectuals, in order to mend fences.

Erdogan’s man?

Marc Pierini, the former EU ambassador in Turkey, who works with the Carnegie Europe think thank, agreed - up to a point.

“He [Davutoglu] has his own style and his own ideas, which are very different from the president’s [Erdogan], and he can voice these differences. But after the elections, more power has shifted to the president,” Pierini told this website.

“He [Davutoglu] has, on occasion, voiced differences on freedom of the press. But the problem is, it doesn’t change anything."

Sinan Ulgen, who chairs the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, and who also works with Carnegie, said it’s “standard practice” for Turkish politicians to hire PR firms.

He added: “After the elections, Davutoglu might try to carve out more political space for himself … He has the constitution to back him, because it gives more power to the PM than to the president, but this will be an uphill struggle given how influential and effective Erdogan is.”

An EU diplomatic source said: “Davutoglu is dependent on the president, but at the same time, he’s ambitious and he might be waiting for his moment.”

“He’s an ideologue, an intellectual, and a man who represents certain values. Unlike Erodgan, for instance, he really wanted to fight corruption.”

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