Lobbying seminar inspire change

June 21-23, key members and employees of the Union of Municipalities of Turkey (UMT) visited Sweden and SALAR for a few days of seminars and workshops on lobbying. Lobbying is an area where the UMT has developed a lot the past year and a half, but that still needs some tuning.

– We want a greater possibility to influence, says the Secretary General of the UMT, Mr. Hayrettin Güngör.
The UMT already has a lawyer that follows what is happening in the Turkish parliament in order to try and influence key issues concerning local democracy and governance. The lawyer tries to negotiate with the MP’s before decisions are made. However, there is more to be done.

In order to improve their routines and find inspiration both internally and externally, the UMT is investigating how other similar organizations work, both nationally and internationally. Hence the exchange with SALAR.

The issue of international lobbying is a part of the Turkish process of EU approximation. Exchange programs between associations such as Tusenet play an important role in Turkey’s harmonization process.

– It is important for us to see how EU standards are being implemented, says Ms. Zeliha Mercimek, legal adviser at the UMT.

Secretary General Mr. Güngör was inspired by SALAR’s Brussel’s office and now considers the possibilities of opening a UMT office there as well.

When it comes to lobbying within Turkey, there are two main issues that need to be improved, according to Ms. Mercimek. First visibility, and second, relations with the politicians.

– SALAR uses the support from politicians more efficiently than we do, and the Swedish public has a higher knowledge of SALAR than the Turkish public has of UMT, Ms. Mercimek noticed during the seminars.

Understaffing a challenge

At the UMT, lobbying activities are mainly conducted in Ms. Mercimek’s department, which is the International Relations Department. Since a while back they are working on improving the visibility and relationship to MP’s by establishing a parliamentarian group composed of mayors. But there are still a few challenges to deal with.
The biggest challenge is the fact that there is not enough staff, according to Ms. Mercimek.

– We are only three lawyers who deal with 2951 municipalities! We need to specialize and we also need more people in our department.

One way of improving the situation is to increase cooperation between departments, work more together with the departments of infrastructure and finance for example, and this way make lobby activities more effective. Ms. Mercimek is hopeful. The motivation to change is high within the organization.