Turkey and EU representatives Tuesday stressed that they attach utmost importance to strengthening the former's civil society. They underlined that the efforts to do so will continue with projects, supported by the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).
The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director for EU affairs, Faruk Kaymakçı, and the head of the EU delegation to Turkey, Christian Berger, attended the opening ceremony of the Civil Society Support Program yesterday. The program is being organized by the Directorate for EU Affairs.
Speaking at the ceremony, Kaymakçı said, "For more than 15 years, projects aiming to strengthen civil society dialogue and improve the capacities of civil society organizations have been supported."
Representatives of various public institutions and civil society organizations also attended the event held in Ankara.
Mehmet Selim Uslu, director of the Central Finance and Contracts Unit, in his opening speech, said: "In the first round of IPA in 2007-2013, 75 million euros [$85.76 million] were provided to civil society organizations under various programs."
For the 2014-2020 period with IPA II, 190 million euros would be spent on the organizations. Uslu added that the Directorate for EU Affairs will coordinate the Civil Society Support Program and will be responsible for the technical implementation of the program and its sustainability.
Turkey became eligible for EU membership in 1997 and accession talks began in 2005. In recent years, Turkey has complained that the EU decision to not open new chapters in its accession negotiations was politically motivated.
With an aim to support Turkey's accession process, the EU has provided IPA funds to programs that "aim at aligning Turkish legislation and standards with the EU's, building [the] authorities' capacity for undertaking this harmonization and implementing the reforms throughout the accession process," the EU Delegation of Turkey website says.
Stressing that Turkey is very rich regarding civil society organizations, Berger said that there are 100,000 organizations that represent more than 9 million people as active members.
"With the end of the state of emergency in Turkey and projects like this we can once again broaden the space for the civil society," Berger said, adding that, "We work together to remove administrative obstacles for the works of civil society."
In relation to the aims of the EU and Turkey, Berger said that their objectives are to increase the autonomy, representation and accountability of the organizations. He added that they also want to increase the effectiveness of Turkey's civil society and strengthen the networking and cooperation capacity between the public sector and the organizations.
Berger also highlighted that the EU and Turkey agreed on these objectives in a country strategy document. Accordingly, he read from the respective section: "Civil society activities can stimulate and expand the space for dialogue and cooperation methods of the public, including the EU accession process. Active civil society demonstrates effective pluralism, which implies respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the possibility for social and political change."
Despite the EU's announcement of the allocation of funds for recent projects, the bloc has decided to cut Turkey's pre-accession funds by 146.7 million euros in its 2019 budget.
Following the opening speeches, Kaymakçı conducted a short survey about Turkey's EU accession with the participants of the meeting.
According to the mobile survey, 91 percent of the 217 participants said they supported Turkey's EU accession. Commenting on the results, Kaymakçı said it clearly indicates that Turkey has not given up on its objective to join the EU.
In the survey, the participants chose, respectively, democracy and human rights, higher living standards and visa liberalization as the three major benefits that the EU would provide Turkey.
A total of 92 percent of the participants said they do not believe that the EU will accept Turkey's membership bid under current circumstances.
According to the survey, participants listed the EU's three major reservations about Turkey's accession - around 24 percent said the fact that the majority of Turkey's population is Muslim, 22 percent said the democratic standards in Turkey and 20 percent said historical prejudices against Turkey.