The EU’s financial support to Turkey does not reach the most vulnerable
In a series of reportages we will focus on EU's economic aid to Turkey. No other so-called candidate may be as much money as Turkey to adapt to EU membership. But our investigation shows that money does not reach those who need the most.
In the village Aynward-Gülgöza in the southeast of Turkey, the leader of the village, Mirza Akbulut, has never even heard of the European Union.
“I do not know what it is," said Mirza Akbulut, village elder in the several thousand year old village. “I don’t understand what Europe has to do with us?”
The sheep graze among the ruins that make visiting archaeologists excited while the villagers are more interested in seeing real toilets. There is no proper sewage and most of the villagers can not afford to pay the electricity bill.
”Do you see that road over there, to the church? When it’s raining, even if it's just a little bit, you can’t use it.”
The night falls in Aynward-Gülgöza in southeastern Turkey and it is pitch black. Mirza Akbulut uses the family's single flashlight to show us the collapsed bridges around us. Mirza and his wife insist on offering us tea so we go inside the house.
Mirza Akbulut throws a piece of wood on the stove in the middle of the room and his wife Gule serves tea, raisins and acorns.
While life in the village is progressing almost without modernity, the idea is that places like this one will move closer to EU standards. To that end, the European Union has dedicated billions of Swedish kronor. No one at the EU Commission office in Turkey has a complete picture of how much money it adds up to.
Neither do we manage to get the complete picture for all areas of support, but for the parts we are able to get the figures, we sum it up to over 75 billion Swedish kronor earmarked for Turkey during the years 2004 to 2012.
That sum includes money for Turkey to take part in the usual European programs such as Erasmus for exchange students, but the larger part is financial support aimed at directly preparing the country for EU membership.
As for that part, Turkey gets by far most of all the candidate and potential candidate countries. In second place is Serbia which receives less than one third of Turkey's total. Serbia is of course also smaller.
One of the five components of the financial support aiming at preparing the country for membership is about rural development, which is badly needed in Turkey's poorer areas, but that money no one has seen in the little village of Aynward-Gülgöza.
”We need roads, that somebody fix our bridges and a telephone line and help to pay our electricity bill, at least a small part of it, that would be nice,” says Gule Akbulut.
One reason Gule or her husband has not seen the money is that since 2007 the financial support to rural development is supposed to be dealt with by the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, but the Ministry has not managed to get in place the authorities needed to handle the applications and distribute the money to farmers’ and villagers’ projects.
About 7 billion Swedish kronor are simply stuck in the ministry waiting for everything to be in place. But as the money goes back to the EU if it has not been used before 2013, there will be a big rush to spend all the money once the relevant authorities are in place. And it's not even clear when they will be.
”We leave it to God. May he have mercy on us”, Mirza Akbulut says.
Once the money gets through the Turkish authorities, it remains to apply for it, something that is easier said than done, especially for farmers here who are often illiterate.
Over 1000 kilometres away, in the capital Ankara's luxury shopping district, an elderly woman lays on the ground praying to God for help. She asks for a spare coin, and she sings for the passers-by, especially for those who put a coin in her hand.
Helena Storm is the first secretary at the Swedish Embassy in Ankara. We met her with a colleague.
”It is difficult to apply for EU grants, that's a fact. In my previous job with trafficking I met really professional NGOs in Brussels who simply did not apply for grants from the Commission. It was simply too difficult, administratively. It was too tough,” says Helena Storm.
Another problem when EU money is allocated is that what is commonly called civil society, for example, NGOs and trade unions are still underdeveloped in Turkey after the many years of political repression, especially after the military coup in 1980.
There are few organizations working for, for example, agricultural development, gender equality and human rights, and those who are do not have the skills to cope with the unusually complicated application documents.
To help NGOs to apply for the grants, a special organization has been formed. It’s called STGM and Levent Korkut is the head of it.
”Most Turkish NGOs are based in big cities, developed cities, by middle class people and intellectuals. It's an elite thing."
We meet Levent Korkut at an Italian cafe with a trendy young crowd only 100 meters from where the begger woman sings for Turkey's future.
Levent Korkut describes the situation for organizations and hence potential beneficiaries of EU grants as very gloomy in Turkey.
It is the mostly the elite of well-developed big cities who engage in voluntary organizations. They do not reach the grass roots and it is very rare that the do advocacy and work for rights issues and really bring about change.
He describes the eastern parts as a dark area for NGOs.
”The poor parts are black spots, it's a big difference between East and West in terms of number of NGOs.”
That’s another reason that poor regions in the southeast often are left without EU funding, although they are much needed. And for Mirza Akbulut and his wife Gule it does not help that people from town are impressed by the fact that their house is so old.
”Do you see our house? It’s falling down, it is collapsing on us, and you see this wall, it is also coming down. And then some authority came here and said we could not change anything. I said that they had to come and repair it then. If you are making our voice heard, if you help us, we will be forever grateful.”