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Turkey and EU neighbours stress value of city-to-city collaboration  

EU is proposing cuts to funds for cross-border cooperation.

Turkey would like to increase its participation in cross-border programmes and to see an upgrading in relations between Turkey and the European Committee of the Regions, Faruk Kaymakci, Turkey's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Director for EU Affairs, told local and regional politicians from the European Union and Turkey on 27 November. 

Mr Kaymakci, who participated at a meeting of the working group on relations with Turkey created by the European Committee of the Regions, was speaking against a backdrop of budget negotiations that could see the EU significantly reduce funding for cross-border projects with neighbouring countries. 

The meeting, which was dedicated to cross-border cooperation, brought together a number of politicians whose regions are involved in cross-border cooperation between the EU and Turkey, including the host city, Edirne, which lies close to Turkey's border with Bulgaria and Greece.

While the European Commission is proposing an overall increase in 2021-27 in the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) that supports projects with countries seeking to join the EU, funding for cross-border projects would be cut by 18%.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz (BE/PES), President of the European Committee of the Regions, voiced regret at the proposed cut. Nonetheless, he expressed confidence that cross-border cooperation would remain a key element in the EU's relations with border regions, including Turkey.

EU plans for the 2021-27 period foresee the continuation of cross-border programmes involving Turkey, currently with Bulgaria and the Black Sea Basin and offer Turkey the possibility to join other programmes.

Eleftheria Pertzinidou, the Deputy Head of the EU's Delegation to Turkey, said such projects raised living standards, increased understanding, and boosted cooperation.

Turkey's progress towards membership of the EU is effectively at a standstill, the European Council said in June 2019, noting that "no further chapters [in negotiation talks] can be considered for opening or closing". The European Commission's 2019 country report concluded that Turkey was moving away from the EU rather than towards it.

However, politicians from the EU emphasised the long-term value of developing cooperation between cities and regions on both sides of the border, praising cooperation that their communities developed with Turkish towns and cities through EU cross-border programmes. Hasan Azis (BG/Renew), Mayor of Kardjali, said collaboration needed to continue, while Adamantios Papadopoulos of Orestiada Council said that cooperation had boosted tourism. Mr Papadopoulos also noted that other cross-border work supported by the EU's Interreg programmes had improved the management of traffic, floods, and sewerage.

Martín Guillermo Ramírez, Secretary-General of the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), added other areas where local cross-border projects bring solutions to shared challenges, such as healthcare, education and training, civil protection, environmental protection, and the labour market.

Turkish speakers were also keen to develop municipal and regional ties and to nurture the EU-Turkey relationship.

Cemal Bas, a member of Keciören municipal council for the ruling AK Party, said that the Union of Municipalities of Turkey (TBB) is willing to encourage municipalities with no history of participating in EU projects to become involved.

Recep Gürkan, Mayor of Edirne and member of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said that the EU and Turkey had been in a relationship for a long time, and that it was a long journey that sometimes went faster and sometimes slower, but that he hoped that the final goal was gradually getting closer.

Mr Kaymakci's support for an upgrade in contacts between Turkey and the CoR would see the working group transformed into a joint consultative committee. In the current working group, Turkey brings a changing set of politicians to each meeting for a one-off discussion on a particular theme; a joint consultative committee establishes a long-term work programme and Turkey would be expected to bring together the same set of politicians to regular meetings over a five-year period.

The CoR chair of the working group is Jens Christian Gjesing (DK/PES), a member of Haderslev council. Other members of the CoR who attended the meeting were: Dimitrios Petrovits (EL/EPP), Deputy Governor of the Region of Evros; Sanchia Alasia (UK/PES), a councillor from the London borough of Barking and Dagenham; Pavel Branda (CZ/ECR), Deputy Mayor of Rádlo; Gillian Ford (UK/EA), a councillor from the London borough of Havering; and Stavros Stavrinides (CY/PES), a member of Strovolos Municipal Council.