Members of the Working Group on relations with Turkey met yesterday in the Committee of the Regions' (CoR) premises to discuss the enlargement process and latest developments in Turkey from a local perspective. The main focus was on decentralisation, local democracy and the drafting of a new constitution. The Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Turkey to the EU was also among the participants to the meeting.
Introducing the debate, Heinz Lehmann (EPP/DE), Member of Sachsen State Assembly and new chair of the Working Group, stressed that being attentive to the development of the EU accession negotiations at all levels of government is a major challenge. "The negotiations need the involvement of all levels of government in order to ensure full respect of the principle of subsidiarity; a principle legally contained in the EU Treaties" he said. While recognising that the accession process of Turkey is not as dynamic as it used to be, he underlined the need for new impetus and emphasised the three important issues for the CoR's Working Group, namely: political dialogue with local and regional authorities in Turkey, economic, social and cultural policies and the territorial dimension of the acquis communautaire.
Selim Yenel, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Turkey to the EU, shared his concerns over the fact that the relationships between the EU and Turkey are on hold and expressed concern that they may further drift apart. He insisted that Turkey needs to adopt the necessary reforms, but also expressed the view that some of these reforms might only be able to take place when the country feels it has a real perspective of becoming a member of the EU. As M. Yenel emphasised: "We need a game changer to motivate the engine in Turkey", adding that "we believe that we have a future together".
The outgoing chair of the Working Group, Bernard Soulage (PES/FR), Vice-president of the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council, said it was his strong belief that "the EU needs Turkey and that Turkey needs the EU" but underlined that '"things are not going well". He went on to explain that "the specific message that we need to convey to Turkey is that, as it is for the EU, diversity is a real asset and it needs to be recognised through decentralisation and local autonomy".
Luc Van den Brande (EPP/BE), Chairman of the Flemish-European Liaison Agency and CoR rapporteur on the EU enlargement strategy 2012- 2013, emphasised that it was in Turkey's benefit to think more in terms of multi-level governance and to provide local authorities with adequate financial means. He highlighted the lack of progress in the transfer of powers to local government as well as in administrative decentralisation. He also reported that in recent contact with local authorities in Turkey they expressed their fear of re-centralisation.
Presenting the European Commission's 2012 progress report in more details, Jean-Christophe Filori, Head of the Turkey unit in DG Enlargement, was keen to underline that "It is of mutual interest for this integration process to continue, all the more so because the EU needs to be a benchmark for reforms in Turkey". He explained that the conditions set by the EU will only be credible if they are based on an EU commitment to follow the progress according to the rules of accession.
Concerning the issue of the new Turkish draft law affecting municipalities, Tunç Soyer, Mayor of Seferihisar, expressed regrets that, despite high expectations, the draft legislation had been prepared in haste, without the necessary consensus with local authorities. Heinz Lehmann added his assurance that the Working Group will continue to follow developments and to work with local authorities in Turkey.
The next meeting of the Working Group will take place on 21 June 2013.
Working Group on relations with Turkey
The Working Group on relations with Turkey was set up in December 2006 to ensure that the CoR and the Turkish local and regional authorities are involved in the enlargement process, in particular with regard to the implementation of the acquis communautaire at regional and local level. Through this Working Group, the CoR also intends to foster permanent dialogue with local and regional political representatives in Turkey, and encourage the organisation of debates on the enlargement process in the cities and regions of both the EU and Turkey.
The Working Group is composed by 11 members of the CoR and meets twice a year with its Turkish counterparts. The participation of local and regional representatives from Turkey varies according to the topics discussed and the place of the meeting.