Integrating EU and Turkish Municipalities: Europeanising from below?

I had the opportunity to attend the introductory meeting for the Twin Cities Project between Turkish and EU Municipalities that took place in Ankara on 31st January till 4 February.

The meeting was supported by a number of high profile institutions, notably the EU Delegation Office in Turkey, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP Turkey), the Turkish Union of Municipalities, and the Ministry of Interior and Central Finance and Contracts Unit (CFCU). It hosted 10 Turkish and 15 European local authorities who gave presentations about works of local authorities. The meeting grouped a number of Turkish Municipalities from all geographical parts of Turkey and gave the participants a very comprehensive view of the problems that these Municipalities face.

Workshops were held on various themes including social services, environmental issues, local economic development, tourism and culture. Participating Municipalities had the opportunity to exchange good practice and to discuss problems and opportunities in each of these fields. We learnt a lot from each other as we shared ideas on how citizens’ issues can be solved. We all enjoyed the great hospitality of the organisers and were grateful to them for the experience.

One of the main aims of the meeting was to help Turkish Municipalities implement locally the EU ‘acquis’ that affect citizens in every part of their daily lives. Although the meeting had a ‘Europeanisation’ agenda, it also had a ‘citizen empowerment’ dimension, as initiatives came from the people who are far away from the decision-making process of Brussels.

One innovation of the meeting was that Municipalities that opted to cooperate together would do so in a structured way after having chosen a particular policy and theme. Therefore, this was not another ‘happy hippie twinning for peace’ exercise but rather a strategy that will bring Municipalities together in a detailed, practical and well-planned manner.

I admired the will of various Turkish Municipal administrations to transform the lives of their citizens and to get engaged in new projects. Turkish Municipalities are already experimenting with innovative techniques and are eager to learn more. They have a huge potential for economic, social and cultural development. And so has Turkey overall: a country that is booming, opening up to new ideas and methods of cooperation.

I am sure that the event will spur a new wave of cooperation amongst cities. In the case of Greece and Turkey, I do hope that the development of Municipal cooperation projects will contribute to bringing together the two sides of the Aegean. We need this rapprochement more than ever before.