Speaking at the opening ceremony of a conference titled “Our City Prepares for the EU” in Kahramanmaraş on Thursday, State Minister Egemen Bağış said Turkey’s efforts to join the EU would continue with determination.
Kahramanmaraş is the first city in Turkey to develop self-funded projects to prepare for the EU accession process.
Under an initiative launched by Bağış, the Secretariat General for European Union Affairs (ABGS) has encouraged local administrations to prepare their cities for EU accession. Within this framework, local administrations have called on their populations to prepare projects aimed at EU harmonization.
Kahramanmaraş residents, the first participants of this program in Turkey, submitted 103 project proposals. Twenty-five of these were found suitable.
The projects that will be implemented have been developed for various fields, ranging from preschool education and facilitating the mobility of the disabled to agriculture and environmental protection.
The projects, which will have an overall budget of TL 2 billion, aim to ensure the harmonization of the city with EU norms and familiarize the city with the ins and outs of EU projects.
In his speech, Bağış said he believed that Kahramanmaraş was starting a new era on the road to Turkey’s EU accession, praising the city’s initiative as “heroic,” a reference to the word Kahraman, meaning “hero” in Turkish, a title given to the city of Maraş due to its courageous struggle against enemy forces during the War of Independence.
He also recalled the pogrom of 1978, when hundreds of Alevi citizens were attacked and at least 103 people were killed at the hands of an angry and agitated mob. Bağış stated his conviction that such an incident would never again happen anywhere in Turkey.
“There are people in Turkey who are worried that a new military coup d’état might take place, while some others are worried about interference into their lifestyles. But neither of these is rational. We are now in a different era. The events of 1978 will never be repeated again. All segments of the society are communicating with each other. For the first time in Turkish history, a president visited a cemevi [an Alevi cultural center and place of worship]. Our Kurdish citizens can now watch a state-run television channel in a language they can understand. All these developments have not driven us apart, but drawn us closer, serving to help us understand one another.”
Bağış underlined that there are both domestic and foreign forces at work trying to make Turkey weary of the EU process and cause it to abandon its accession hopes, but said Turkey would never do that.
He added that when the new projects come to life, Kahramanmaraş will serve as an example for other provinces.
A secret deal in Athens
In a separate statement he made to Today’s Zaman, Bağış briefly talked about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent visit to Greece. He said in reality not 22, but 23 agreements were signed between the two countries. He said the 23rd agreement, which newspapers did not report on, was the decision of Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to call each other by their first names, George and Tayyip. “They became good friends and were able to talk about issues which leaders before them were hesitant to talk about.”
Bağış also talked about Turkey’s candidacy to host the 2016 European Cup. The UEFA’s decision will be announced on May 28, when, Bağış said, nobody should be surprised if Turkey is chosen. “No other country had an application file as good as ours,” he said, adding that Turkey deserved it more than any other country and that the event would be the best answer to those who dare show the insolence to question Turkey’s Europeanness.
Lidignton calls Bağış
Bağış said David Lidington, the British minister of state for Europe, recently called him on the phone. The two ministers had a 25-minute-long conversation, in which Lidington underlined Britain’s support for continuing the EU negotiation chapter on the environment, which was opened between Turkey and the EU under the previous British government.