German foundations push for intensive dialogue between EU member states and Turkey

German foundations push for intensive dialogue between EU member states and Turkey

German foundations are working closely with Turkish organizations to improve bilateral ties and support democratic progress in the country. Michael Meier, representative of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation in İstanbul, spoke to Sunday's Zaman about the foundation's work here in Turkey and the Turkish-European relationship in general, Today's Zaman reported.

Colored by the Gezi protests, the European Commission's last progress report on Turkey's prospective EU membership only provoked new tensions between Ankara and Brussels. Instead of expecting big leaps in development, there is a need for more dialogue between the EU member states and Turkey, says Meier.

"It's not the task of the EU to decide about the Turkish political process This is the task of Turkey itself," he says. Merely working towards EU accession will not change the nature of Turkish society. What is more relevant for a process of change is to begin talking about issues such as the Armenian question, the role of women and the coexistence of different religious and ethnic groups. Meier stresses, "If Turkey raises and solves its problems step by step, it will come closer to Europe automatically."

To support the dialogue between Turkey and Europe, German foundations such as the Friedrich Ebert Foundation focus on active cooperation with a variety of influential organizations and individuals that are able to contribute to a democratic and pluralistic society. "Progress is not defined by passing an enormous law but by little improvements in daily life," Meier explained.

These little steps for change, however, are not defined by the German foundations themselves. They almost entirely depend on the actual concerns raised by their Turkish partners.

These partners contact a foundation, which then decides whether a certain request or initiative should be supported. Meier says: "A lot of domestic issues such as the new reforms and the Kurdish question are our issues as well. The focus of our foundation is closely connected to the challenges of Turkey."

German foundations can only highlight some issues that they perceive as problems in Turkish society, Meier continues. Finding solutions for these issues is the mission of Turkish politics. This applies to democratization as well as the role of an independent press. "If we tried to solve these problems by ourselves, we would be doomed to failure," Meier said. Besides acting as intermediaries between different groups, foreign foundations cannot alter legislation or Turkey's EU membership process.

Europe and Turkey are moving apart

According to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the European Commission is calling on EU member states to support opening a new chapter of membership negotiations with Turkey although the last progress report did not give a favorable impression of Turkish politics. The commission criticized negative developments such as the brutality of the police force towards the Gezi protestors. Despite this, the report also noted positive tendencies in the developing relationship between Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), as well as an improvement of the Kurdish minority's situation in Turkey.

Regarding Europe's latest attempt to improve relations with Turkey, Meier claims that Europe's leaders are not pressing enough for an advanced relationship with Turkey. "Most politicians don't recognize the importance of Turkey as a strategic partner. There were lots of meetings in Brussels to which Turkish ministers weren't invited."

Instead of talking, Europe and Turkey are moving apart.

Both Europe and Turkey should have an interest in cooperation: On the one hand, Turkey needs allies to resolve its new problems with Syrian refugees and to strengthen its role in the Middle East. On the other hand, the EU will profit from a strong partner in this region. Both sides would benefit from cooperation.
German foundations' role as mediator

Turkish domestic policy has a big effect on Germany. The discussion about Turkish journalists attending the National Socialist Underground (NSU) trial had an influence on German politics and shows the importance of Turkish migrants in Germany. Furthermore, a lot of German trade unions and companies are operating in Turkey. Therefore, creating improved understanding is a basic and an important role of these foundations.

Today there are four German foundations operating in Turkey: the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. They all work independently but are linked to a different German party and focus on various political issues. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, for example, has three main issues: Besides Turkish foreign policy and economy, their work centers on the status of democracy, human rights and social awareness.

German foundations work with many partners including political representatives, NGOs, universities and media sources. Their work includes the organization of talks between their partners in Germany and Europe. During these discussions the foundations are able to promote fresh thinking. To reduce prejudice, they also provide translations of speeches and presentations in Turkish and German and invite associations, educational tours and student groups to workshops.

The relationship between foreign foundations and their Turkish host has not always been smooth in the past. In 2011, for example, Erdogan accused German foundations of supporting the PKK. According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the foundations in question rejected these accusations at the time. Although there have been some unfortunate incidents concerning foreign organizations, Meier mentions that there has been positive development in the cooperation between Turkey and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation compared with the situation a decade ago.

Nonetheless, it is the task of the EU member states and the Turkish government to support greater communication, posits Meier. Turkey and EU need more politicians who dare to approach each other. Otherwise, the hope of Turkish entry into the EU will fade away.

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