Great article :
“The city represents Turkey’s harmony and diversity, reflecting a centuries-old interaction between cultures and religions”
“It is 25 years since Turkey first applied to join the European Union, and seven years since full EU membership negotiations began. It is a long road on which we have embarked – and we always knew the process was going to take time. But the idea that Turks are going off the idea of EU membership, or that Europeans are losing interest in Turkey, is uninformed and wrong. Quite the opposite is the case.
Almost unnoticed, remarkable advances in Turkey’s integration with Europe are taking place every day in Istanbul and at grassroots level across the length and breadth of the country, far away from the stuffy negotiating rooms of Brussels and Ankara. To increase the relevance of the EU to the lives of ordinary Turks, we have developed a national programme that aims to raise awareness of the EU reform process and build shared platforms at the provincial and local level.
Every province in Turkey has an EU department operating under the auspices of my ministry that tracks and co-ordinates the reform process on the local level. These local branches aim to connect with EU cities and regions that share common characteristics or similar economies and industries. In this way, Turkey’s cities can pair with their EU peers and learn from their counterparts’ experiences. Once this connection is established, city-to-city interactions begin that bring people closer and expand mutual understanding.
This project embraces not only Turkey’s 81 provincial capitals, but is also expanding to smaller towns that want to be put on the EU map. Currently 1,103 Turkish towns are linked to EU equivalents. These interactions go beyond the traditional “sister cities” link-ups, ultimately aiming at full EU integration and conversion. A clear philosophy underpins this approach. While paying close attention to civic and institutional aspects of the union, our aim is to convince both Turkish and EU populations that Turkey in the EU is a win-win situation for all.
Istanbul is the jewel in the crown of this almost unnoticed, ground-level Turkey-Europe integration. Ever greater numbers of Europeans make the journey to Turkey’s largest city each year. Istanbul is up in lights around the world these days as Hollywood’s favourite movie set: Skyfall, Argo and Taken 2 are the most recent productions to use the city as a stunning setting and backdrop. Movie directors have successfully captured its beautiful skyline and interpreted its allure for a global audience.
At the same time Istanbul, in my opinion, has even greater importance as a city representing the highest artistic and cultural values – for its majestic charm extends beyond movie scenes. The city is a testimony to the harmony of east and west and, for this reason, it has a special mission in facilitating Turkey’s EU path.
Istanbul is a reflection of humanity’s past and the nation’s future. Its economy produces about one fifth of the national GDP, connecting Europe with Asia and linking Turkey with the EU. The city represents Turkey’s harmony and diversity, a cultural capital that reflects a centuries-old interaction between cultures and religions.
Istanbul, under the “sister cities” project, has relations with 200 cities around the world. About 65 of these are EU cities. My ministry aims to enrich the latter group by lending special emphasis to the EU perspective and institutionalising existing connections. There are 30 major projects in Istanbul aiming to enhance the EU integration process led by universities, civic associations and NGOs.
In recent months Istanbul has co-operated on cultural projects with Cologne, shared a business platform with Barcelona and just completed a sustainability summit with Copenhagen. EU grants have been utilised on the Istanbul-Ankara high-speed rail project. We are about to build a third bridge across the Bosphorus to further connect Europe and Asia while reaffirming Turkey’s special role between east and west.
Above all, in my view, the EU is a major peace project that will not be complete without Turkey. The EU is about social cohesion, tolerance and harmony. We cherish these values and recognise their contribution to peace and prosperity in our region. All we need for complete success is a clear and unbiased vision and mutual determination. Turkey is travelling a long road to deliver on its commitments. We demand equally clear determination and vision from our EU partners.”