Confessions from a Eurosceptic

Filiz Bikmen Bugay

Filiz Bikmen Bugay

There is a website in Turkey called Itiraf in Turkish means ‘confession’. And I have a confession to make (though this is likely to be way less colorful than the majority of entries on that website… enough said!).

When I first saw that the theme for EFC 2010 was “A Conversation with the Institutions” I was disappointed and thought it had no relevance to our work in Turkey which is not (yet?) a member state. And Brussels? I’ve been to this city several times, always running in and out. It’s never had any appeal for me. So there I was- destined for an unsexy conference in an unsexy city! But I was wrong- very very wrong! And I thank EFC for proving me so.

I have no idea about the stories of other delegates who applied the conference theme- literally- to their work this week.  But in a surprising manner, I was among those that did. And it wrecked all of my pre-judgments about how inapplicable this would be for our work in Turkey. How so? There were three A-HA moments below which summarize what I consider to be a major success story for EFC 2010 and for Turkish foundations.

The first was dinner with TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Business Association, the main EU advocacy organization representing Turkey in Brussels) on 31 May. Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi (Permanent Representative ) and his team graciously hosted the Turkish delegation at their lovely office. We were briefed on the latest developments in the EU and EU-Turkey relations. The highlight of the night was the moment that Turkish foundations realized that EU-Turkey relations was not only a job for others (e.g. private, public, academic sectors) but also something our foundations needed to take part in. It was great to see the revelation that we do have a role starting to creep in to minds around the table.

The second moment was the following day at the panel on Turkish Foundations (1 June) in which I was a speaker along with other foundation colleagues- 3 from Turkey,  and 1 each from North Cyprus and Germany. There was great audience engagement and discussions which included those about Turkey looking East or West- or both. One of the comments was from  Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (MEP, EPP Group, Sweden) . I was quite honestly shocked and pleased to see her come on her own time at her own will without any invitation from us. It was encouraging and sent yet another message to us foundations that our work ‘on the ground’ was important input to the accession discussions and process. We really did start to get the feeling that EFC 2010 would be an important turning point for us.

The third and final moment was on Wednesday, 2 June, when we had a series of meetings with high level officials at the European Council (Head of Unit for Turkey) and following that the European Commission (Member of Cabinet and International Relations Officer for Turkey) and the Turkish Ambassador. One specific outcome of the meetings was the idea to prepare a ‘foundation report’ of activities and share it with the unit that prepares Turkey’s annual report card (technically known as Turkey’s Progress Report) published every October. It’s actually a very useful tool for moving change albeit in a very carrot and stick kind of way. But our input will balance the report by including examples of the positive social change foundations are helping to create in Turkey and the Turkish government’s support (and when needed, by sharing the bad news and lack of support as well!).  This series of meetings was the perfect crescendo, as our group shared with a great sense that our horizons were expanding to include Europe and European relations.

So indeed, I confess: I arrived feeling very apathetic about ‘conversations with the institutions’ and about the cold and dreary Brussels weather. But much like the turn in weather and face of the sun, I am leaving Brussels tomorrow with not only a heightened level of awareness and optimism about the value we as foundations can add to this process, but also a stack of cards and great interest from individuals that drive this process from Brussels. And to add to that stack, today we lunched with the Head of Unit for Integration of people with Disabilities and others from the Commission which was organized by the EFC’s Disability Rights Consortium of Foundations (led by ONCE, of which Sabanci Foundation is a member).

Tomorrow, I suspect, will be the icing on the cake: My fourth and final engagement as a speaker this week is on a panel regarding Foundations Advocacy work with the EU. I was asked to speak on behalf of the EFC’s Disability Rights Foundation Consortium (referred to by Miguel Cabra de Luna as a ‘second generation EFC interest group’ which is now, in its Consortium form, a first of its kind and pilot for the EFC), and share this work as an example and case for how and why foundations should – and can- do more advocacy work. I hope some of you will read this post in time to come to the session where we’ll be talking about how foundations can and do influence policy through action and not (only) through creating new policy…. and much much more. And if not, maybe (just maybe) I’ll write about it when I’m back in front of my computer next week…

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