Civil society key for EU membership: Turkish official

By Sena Guler

ANKARA (AA) – Communication and interaction with civil society is important for Turkey’s EU accession, the country’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.

"We attach great importance to communication and interaction with civil society in our EU membership process," said Faruk Kaymakci, who is also a director for EU Affairs.

Speaking at Diplohack, a Turkey-EU Civil Society Dialogue event in capital Ankara, Kaymakci said meetings had been held with non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the scope of the dialogue program to get their ideas.

Highlighting the importance of opinion in civil society, he added: "If civil society — the Turkish nation — did not want it, we would not struggle in the EU [accession] process."

Kaymakci went on to ask nine questions about Turkey-EU relations to the participants — which included academics, students, NGO representatives and diplomats, as well as the head of the EU delegation in Turkey, Christian Berger.

Touching on the EU’s double-standards, Kaymakci said accession of Greek Cypriot administration to the EU affected Turkey’s accession process "directly in a negative way," and that it was not a conducive approach.

"We can solve the Cyprus issue, too, as long as the parties have good intentions," he noted.

Kaymakci also said Islamophobia and anti-Turkish attitudes affected EU governments who he said saw Turkey as "too big, too poor and too Muslim."

"If we are talking about an EU with values, we should get rid of these prejudices," he said.

Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005.

However, negotiations stalled in 2007 due to objections by the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus as well as opposition from Germany and France.

– Problem-solving through subsidiarity

For his part, Berger said civil society was best defined as a group of organizations of the part of society is dealing with problems on a daily basis.

Berger said the EU adopted the "concept of subsidiarity" which he explained as solving problems at their roots.

He added that the bloc did not only support human rights organizations or political organizations, a point on which the bloc faces frequent criticism.

"We are supporting civil society organizations across the entire spectrum," he said, adding that these included organizations dealing with animal rights, the environment, sports organizations and so on.

"We have a very broad view of what civil society is," he noted.

He said the delegation hoped to bring Turkish and European civil society organizations together to discuss the common future of Turkey and the EU.

"Supporting civil society is the fundamental value for the European Union," he said, mentioning concerns about civil society’s "the shrinking space" around the world.

"There is a push back in the way the civil society organizes itself and in the way civil society expresses itself," he said, adding that the EU wanted to lift limitations that such organizations faced globally.

Diplohack will continue for two days, during which participants coming from various cities across Turkey will propose creative ideas to strengthen civil society dialogue between Turkey and the EU.

The ideas will be evaluated by a jury and the ranking ones will be shared with the European Commission, the European Parliament (EP), Foreign Ministry and other relevant institutions.