Turkish mayors call for the creation of a joint consultative committee with the CoR.
Members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 11 December welcomed a request by Turkish regional and local authorities to upgrade relations, by the creation of a joint consultative committee. The CoR's delegation also told the host – Lokman Ertürk, mayor of Kahramankazan – that the EU's assembly for local and regional governments wants the EU to set aside funding specifically for Turkish cities and regions that are hosting refugees from the war in Syria.
The meeting of the CoR's Working Group with Turkey, which focused on refugees and on their integration, was attended by a number of mayors from Turkish cities closely affected by the presence of 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. The Working Group was also an opportunity to discuss the contents of a CoR report on enlargement adopted on 6 December in which the CoR voiced concerns about Turkey's EU path, stating that "at a moment when we observe new dynamics in the accession process of the Western Balkans, it is up to Turkey – which used to be a front-runner in this same process – to decide how to continue on the road to the EU that it began in 1987".
The CoR's rapporteur on enlargement – Franco Iacop (IT/PES), a member of the Council of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region – said: "In the debate on EU enlargement, it is the duty of the CoR to concentrate its analysis mainly on the local and regional authorities of the countries concerned – and that includes the removal from office of scores of local elected representatives. It is my hope that the next local elections, in March 2019, will re-launch the democratic process and that all posts will be filled by representatives elected by the people and not by officials appointed by central authorities."
He continued: "Turkey's cities and regions are doing much of the work of alleviating the plight of refugees from the war in Syria. We are pressing the EU to ensure that it earmarks adequate funding for local and regional authorities directly involved in managing displaced persons and refugees."
Hicham Imane (BE/PES) of Charleroi municipal council, the co-chairman of the Working Group, stated: "We are back to Turkey after three years to relaunch our relationships with our Turkish counterpart. We therefore welcome that the Turkish government is finally ready to ask for the creation of a joint consultative committee, once local elections are held in Turkey on 31 March 2019."
A joint consultative committee has a fixed work programme and a fixed membership.
Referring to the integration of refugees, Mr Imane said: "A single, centralised approach does not work. True integration is only possible at the level closest to citizens – in local communities. So we need an approach that includes local and regional authorities and recognises the challenges they face and the opportunities for integration, such as the local labour market, health services, housing, social services, and languages. We need tailor-made solutions that reflect issues such as the educational, professional and linguistic skills of new arrivals, their reasons for migrating, their needs and their cultural background. Cities that successfully integrate newcomers enjoy higher rates of economic growth, of public trust in the administration, and a greater sense of security and well-being on the part of citizens."
Christian Berger, the head of the European Union delegation to Turkey, also spoke at the meeting and stated that relations between the EU and Turkey are now intensifying, with meetings being held in a great number of fields where no meetings have been held for a long time. He praised the choice of the topic of the discussions – support for refugees – and said that, to help the integration of the millions of refugees in Turkey, the EU is particularly investing in the educational sector.
The meeting was followed by a visit to an UNHCR Vocational Training Centre that is helping Syrian refugees integrate into Turkish Society and to make a living. The centre offers Turkish-language classes followed by the possibility of training in four sectors of the economy: machinery, food, textiles, and information technology.
Since 2015, the CoR has adopted a large set of recommendations on migration and integration, including some particularly focused on collaboration with regions and cities in countries neighbouring the EU – on the protection of refugees in their areas of origin, on migration on the central Mediterranean route, on children in migration, on partnerships with non-EU countries, and on legal migration.
In the long term, the CoR has called for the EU to increase migration-related funding for cities and regions in the EU and to set aside local and regional authorities outside the EU. The CoR in October called for the Asylum and Migration Fund to be given €16 billion, rather than €10 billion, as proposed by the European Commission. On 6 December, the CoR called for the EU's budget for activities outside the EU to earmark €500 million for cities and regions.