Projects: The Only Solid Cooperation Between Turkey and the EU

Currently, the political enthusiasm toward Turkey’s accession to the EU is ebbing and flowing, both in the EU and Turkey. The ambivalent approach and mixed messages from the EU side have led to a disengagement from EU accession amongst the Turkish public. So far, negotiations have been opened on 13 chapters out of 35, and only one of which has been provisionally closed (“Science and Research”). Eight chapters have been frozen by the EU Council over Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from South Cyprus in 2006. In contrast, the financial foundations of the accession process seem to be anchored on more solid ground. Whereas between 2002 and 2006, 1.3 million Euros was provided to Turkey for the financing of 164 projects in the form of grant, between 2007 and 2013 the earmarked amount was raised to 4.9 million euros – a 270 percent increase in total financial aid. Overall EU financial assistance to candidate and potential candidate countries through the IPA program totals up to 10.1 million euros, and at 48.5 percent of this Turkey takes by far the largest portion.

Accession negotiations are not simply confined to the transposition of the EU acquis to Turkish legislation, as they also include the implementation of the acquis chapters that are highly related to the absorption capacity of Turkish institutions regarding the financial aid provided. IPA financial assistance covers diverse areas such as transition assistance and institution building, cross-border cooperation, regional development, human resources development and rural development, with new sub-sections added under the regional development component such as environment and transportation.

As stated above, the accession process cannot be completed by transposition of legislation alone, and requires Turkish institutions implementing the acquis effectively. The division of functions in the Turkish State Railways, the infrastructure and operation of rail lines, the establishment of a Farm Accountancy Data Network allowing statistical data on the incomes and activities of farmers to be collected, the ear-tagging and registration of animals by animal owners, the establishment of community-based health care systems, and the development of institutional capacity for the Water Directive, are only some examples where capacity building within Turkish Institutions is a must for the smooth implementation of the EU’s “acquis communautaire.” On the other hand, high level fixed investments are required for the environment chapter. It has been calculated that a more than 65 billion euro investment is required for full harmonization to the EU acquis in the environment chapter. These issues in implementation capacity and investments are supported by the projects implemented under grants, services, works and supply contracts by EU-funded projects, in which the Turkish government is entitled to contribute a small amount of the project cost.

While the EU-funded financial packages have supported Turkey to a great extent, a number of bottlenecks still need to be addressed. These bottlenecks are mostly in the programming, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of projects.

The programming stage is a strategic stage in which the problems, needs and priorities for implementing the EU acquis and the identification of EU policy coherence of the projects selected are of utmost importance. The designing stage of the projects might require baseline studies and institutional capacity assessments, in order to identify the problems to be addressed at both the central and the regional levels, and to ascertain what support in terms of expertise is acquired. Within projects where different components exist as sub-projects, such as the acquisition of supply or the establishment of a database for a technical assistance project, sequential planning is of strategic importance. It has been observed that due to the problems encountered arising from delays, these projects may have to respond to changing circumstances in the meantime, and the successful implementation of the larger program may be seriously hampered. Risks which could potentially threaten the implementation of projects and/or hamper the achievement of intended results and objectives should be foreseen at the design stage, and the risk mitigation methods must be established during the design of the project. In some projects, risks are not analyzed fully at the design stage, which leads to bottlenecks during implementation, preventing the achievement of intended project objectives. These problems can be mitigated to an extent by providing expertise during the design of the projects, and by providing training at different levels on project cycle management and problem analysis. Furthermore, stakeholder involvement is another important issue during the project design stage. The extensive involvement of related ministries, private sector institutions, and civil society institutions is likely to lead to a broader perception of the problems being identified and addressed. Studies also indicate insufficient stakeholder involvement during the design stage in some projects.

Capacity building with the aim of harmonizing with the EU acquis can involve a variety of different interventions such as technical cooperation, on-the-job training, vocational training, transfer of expertise, and study visits abroad to other EU member states. However, in some projects, due to the lack of a prior institutional capacity assessment, absorption capacity emerges as a serious concern during the implementation of the project. The training of staff that is not sufficiently informed in the area takes longer than anticipated, while the time set for projects becomes unrealistic. The IT systems and databases available may fall short of the requirements, since these inadequacies could not be observed by a prior institutional assessment. Furthermore, projects that anticipate an upgrading in institutional implementation capacity may require substantial change management within these institutions including new approaches, new techniques and sometimes restructuring, which could lead to resistance within these institutions. In this respect, participation in the project objectives that involve restructuring is highly critical. In other words, besides absorption capacity, the beneficiary institutions should have a full commitment to the project objectives. Last but not least, retaining experienced staff arises as a serious concern during projects. Experienced staff can be shifted to other functions through political decisions and replaced by less experienced staff, leading to a loss of time in retraining and adapting new staff.

A major issue in the management of EU-funded projects and other international donor-funded projects is the monitoring and evaluation of projects. Monitoring is critical for understanding whether the intended results are achieved and the achievement of project objectives is like. Post-evaluations are also important in drawing the lessons learnt and benefiting from these findings for upcoming programming periods. Monitoring and evaluation are sometimes performed to some extent either by foreign consultants or staff that have no training or sufficient knowledge on the relevant issues. The latter case proves inefficient and short of quality since the staff is not familiar with the tools of monitoring and evaluation. Consequently, a monitoring system including the collection and analysis of project data on a systematic basis at central and local level does not exist in many projects. Baseline studies and final evaluation studies cannot concentrate on the same target group due to lack of periodical monitoring, leading to non-comparable results between different periods. On the other hand, indicators established during the design stage of projects are often not measurable and are more in the form of benchmarks for completing certain outputs such as reports and training. Log frames, which are useful tools both for the designing and management phases, are not used efficiently.

Projects also have to be sustainable, ensuring that there will be the required human resources, financial sources and political support after the termination of the financial and technical support. The capacity to retain the already trained and experienced staff is of critical importance for providing the human resources after the project, which can unfortunately become an issue in Turkey. The necessary legislation for sustaining the results achieved should also be in place and must be enforced both at the central and the local level, which demands a high level of ownership of results after the project by relevant authorities. It has been observed within some projects that while the legislative work has been completed, legislation is not sufficiently enforced for political reasons, hampering the achievement of results and the project objective. The registration of animal movements is a good example here, as while the prohibition of movement of non-registered animals exists, fines are not applied sufficiently in all circumstances for farmers who derogate.

Despite these bottlenecks, project activities with financial packages continue to be the main bridge between the EU and Turkey in the face of an unfavorable current political climate between the EU and Turkey. Consequently, these activities are the main sources of motivation for Turkey to proceed on its way to full accession. The bottlenecks, meanwhile, can be tackled by increased mobility of technical expertise, consultancy, and training at all levels.

About Acar Şensoy

EU Project Consultant