Today's Zaman, Turkey
Sept 1 2008

Black Sea Euroregion initiative needed more than ever'

Yavuz Mildon, president of the Council of Europe's Congress of Local
and Regional Authorities (CLRA), says they are planning a second
Euroregion in the Black Sea whose bylaws will be open for signature on
Sept. 26 in Varna.

The congress launched the first Euroregion in Adriatic in 2006, he
said, but the task is more difficult in the Black Sea: "The political
climate in the Black Sea region is not quite warm as in the
Adriatic. So signatures would be collected in more time, not

Mildon says Turkish and Russian participation in the initiative is
uncertain and points out that they do not aim to form a political
institution, but an institution to facilitate direct cooperation among
the provinces in the region. Referring to the brief war between
Georgia and Russia, he says it is important to have Russia and Georgia
around the table, because "big conflicts can be solved with the
efforts of the local administrations."

Mildon, elected president at the end of May by a unanimous vote,
elaborated on the role of the local administrations and changes to
Turkish laws regarding local authorities in an interview for Monday

First of all, congratulations on your election as president. Have
there been any changes at the Congress of Local and Regional
Authorities since your election?

Thank you. We brought a 30 percent quota for women at all 47 national
representative delegations at the congress. It's been a great pleasure
for me that a step toward increasing women's political participation
has been taken during my term. Following this measure, we should work
toward increasing women candidates. I am hopeful to see more women
candidates in Turkish local elections next year as well.

At the local administrations level, Turkey's record is embarrassing
when we look at women's participation. There are 3,225 elected mayors
and only 18 of them are women, compared to an EU average of 20 percent
women. What can be done to improve this record?

We need special programs geared toward solving this problem. The main
problem is that a lot of Turkish women have not gained their economic
independence yet. For becoming a candidate in any election, you need
necessary financial resources. Except being a mayor, most local
positions are voluntary, so you need income from other sources, either
from your salaried job or business, to support yourself. Several
political party leaders in Turkey are working toward achieving more
women's participation. In addition, the Turkish public expects this as

What are the recent trends in Europe at the local and regional
administrations levels, and how can Turkey catch up?

Turkey's municipalities need to develop more strategies at the local
level to catch up with all the developments -- because provincial
councils are not passive as they used to be -- and start to make their
voices heard more and more at the regional level. The EU has funds to
support developments, but on a project basis. Therefore, Turkish
administrations need to increase the number of projects.

What kind of projects can they develop?

There are many areas, from health and education to environment and
culture. Turkey does not have enough projects in that regard, even
though the latest changes in the law regarding municipality budgets
revenue gave the municipalities more financial power. The
municipalities now have about 45 percent more revenue and they should
use it to serve the people. The Council of Europe would follow the
developments in all member states regarding the issue. We should not
forget that local and regional administrations plus the civil society
organization, are going to carry Turkey to the European Union. It's
not realistic to have expectations only from the government to realize
Turkey's membership in the EU. Municipalities and civil society groups
have a major role in this direction, so they should be in close
partnership with each other. The local and regional administrations
should open their doors wide to civil groups in order to have a voice
in the EU. Just having rules changed and laws passed is not enough. We
need to see implementation. ¦ And in the implementation process, we
need to see more transparency to comply with the principles of the
Council of Europe.

What are those principles?

Human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I want to give an example
from Austria. A regional parliament member from Austria -- at the same
time an active member of the congress that I am heading -- once had a
record as a careless driver, and his driving license was
suspended. Next day he was found to be driving again. Following that,
his party asked for his resignation and he was erased from the
political arena.

We know that Turkey has been under observation at the general
parliamentary level by the Council of Europe. Is it watching Turkey at
the local level as well?

Yes, this is the job of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
of the Council of Europe.

Are there any scheduled observations?

Yes, rapporteurs will be in Turkey in October or November to prepare a
report. One of the rapporteurs is Anders Knape, president of the
Swedish Association of Local Authorities, and the one is Hans Ulrich
Stockling, former minister of education of Switzerland.

How often do such rapporteurs come to Turkey?

They may come in response to some complaints as well. In the past,
they have come in 2001 and 2005.

What type of complaints do they receive, and from whom?

It's usually been the southeastern municipalities presenting some
written complaints regarding some issues. And Turkey has responded to
those. The complaints are usually related to technical issues and
there are some big issues related to the circumstances in the
Southeast too, but those concern the Turkish government.

Should Turkey expect a lot of criticism in the report that has yet to
be prepared?

In the latest report in 2005, the biggest problem was that the law
regarding municipality revenues had not been passed, although other
laws on municipalities and their responsibilities had passed. The
municipalities would have the responsibility to meet demands without
resources. So this main wrong has been corrected, and we don't expect
a major problem.

You also point out the international role of the local
administrations. Would you elaborate on that?

Local and regional administrations have started to take on roles in
diplomacy. We call that `city diplomacy.' I'll explain that with an
example. After the latest crisis in Georgia subsides, I believe
Turkish municipalities will play a key role in helping out with the
problems of the municipalities in Georgia. The Georgian municipalities
will need support to correct their infrastructure, plus support in
strengthening their local democracies. And Turkish municipalities have
been good examples for Azerbaijani municipalities and municipalities
in the Balkans. I'm planning a visit to both Russia and Georgia in
September. I will go to both South and North Ossetia, because from day
one of the conflict there have been thousands of people who have moved
from the south to the north. We will document the damage to the
infrastructure and make sure ways of convening local and regional
assemblies remain open.

Are there new international projects of the Congress?

We are planning a second Euroregion in the Black Sea. On Sept. 26 in
Varna, we will open its bylaws for signature. We also had our
preparatory meeting in [the Turkish Black Sea province of] Samsun.

Where is the first Euroregion?

We launched it in the Adriatic in 2006. It is important that those
Euroregions cover both member and non-member states. So all regions
around the Adriatic has been members. However, political climate in
the Black Sea region is not quite warm as in the Adriatic. So
signatures would be collected in more time, not immediately.

What would a Black Sea Euroregion yield?

In the Black Sea, the intergovernmental platform has been represented
by the Black Sea Economic Cooperation] BSEC [inter parliamentary
platform has been represented by PABSEC [Parliamentary Assembly of the
Black Sea Economic Cooperation]. There has not been an
inter-territorial platform, and that's what we are trying to
establish. We don't aim to form a political institution. For example,
the northern Black Sea province of Sinop can have more cooperation
with Ukraine's Odessa in the cultural and economic fields within the
limits of municipality issues. Look at the world during World War
II. They were able to make long-lasting peace due to the cooperation
of the local administrations. And in today's circumstances, it is
important to have Russia and Georgia around the table, because big
conflicts can be solved with the efforts of the local authorities.

What are the countries which are likely to support the Black Sea
Euroregion initiative?

As EU member states, Bulgaria and Romania want to take an active role
in this. Armenia said that it will participate. Ukraine is positive. A
region in Georgia will be represented. We don't know the attitudes of
Turkey and Russia yet. I think the Turkish Interior Ministry will
participate and some Black Sea provinces of Turkey will be in Varna.

Do you plan to have more Euroregions?

We are planning another in the Baltic.

In various positions on the Council of Europe, you served as observer
of elections in many new democracies. What have you seen in those

I served as an elections observer in new democracies such as Albania,
Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The Council of Europe
played a big role in the democratic transition of these countries,
especially at the local administration level. We base our principles
on a document that requires autonomy at the local administrative
level. This basic document of the Council of Europe has been signed by
almost all 47 countries and has been implemented. Election observation
has played a crucial role in the new democracies because they complied
with our reports to improve their systems.

Would you give a few examples regarding your observations in those

One thing immediately comes to mind. The head of the family would come
to the [polls] and cast votes for the members of the family. This had
widespread application but has been reduced nowadays.

Have you noticed any such cases in Turkey?

Even if there are some, those are few. I should note that the Turkish
election system is much better than a lot of Western democracies. I
say that especially after seeing what has happened as a result of the
election in Florida in 2000. And the Council of Europe has played a
key role in Turkey, too. As I mentioned, it prepared a report based on
election observations in 2001 and 2005. There will be another one
coming up. The 2005 report was prepared after Turkey passed new laws
regarding special administration of its provinces.

What are those changes specifically?

Those laws helped Turkey's democratization process a lot. As a result,
the office of the governor has been reformed. Previously, the head of
the provincial council was the governor. Now, the head of the
provincial council is elected among the members of the provincial
council. The [Justice and Development Party] AK Party government was
courageous enough to pass those laws that were not previously changed
by other governments.


It is not so easy to change established institutions like the system
regarding the governor because the system has been there for at least
a hundred years. Even the Western democracies have difficulties in
doing that, though they often give advice to Turkey.

Could you talk about those difficulties in the West?

Take France, for example. They have a regional structure; first a
central government, then regions, then departments and then
communes. There are 36,000 communes in France. They know that so many
communes are not necessary but they cannot reform it. In one commune,
called Verdun, there are no constituents, but a mayor!

Yavuz Mildon He was elected by unanimous vote on May 27 as the
President of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional
Authorities, which represents over 200,000 communities in 47
countries. He is also the leader of the Turkish delegation to the
congress and has been a member of the Provincial Council of
Ã?anakkale since 1994. He joined the Congress of Local and
Regional Authorities in 1995. He was elected vice president of the
Chamber of Regions in 2000 and president of the chamber in
2004. Occupying a variety of posts, including member of the Standing
Committee, he acted as rapporteur on several occasions, particularly
on regional democracy in Moldova and Albania.

He was president of the Gelibolu Chamber of Commerce and Industry from
1988 to 1992 and a member (2000) then chair (2002) of the Board of the
Unions of Seafood and Meat Exporters of Turkey. He runs the Mildon
Fish and Shellfish Company in Gelibolu and has been chairman of this
seafood export company since the 1980s.

01 September 2008, Monday