"Istanbul is not only Turkish but is a collective memory of European heritage", Turkish MP Egemen Bagis, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), told journalists after members of the project's executive board met with Mr van der Pas, who is due to replace Odile Quentin as the Commission's Director-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.
Istanbul's application was five years in the making and helped spawn a new type of public-private partnership in Turkey that its initiators hope will serve as a springboard for further reform, in view of Turkey's bid for EU membership, and development of a strong democratic civil society. "This was supported by government, local authorities, NGOs and citizens of Turkey", said Muammer Guler, Governor of Istanbul. "It was a project sustained by the NGOs", he added, with a view to getting people to really "feel the many cultures" of the city.
"We hope that this new public-private partnership will serve as a model for the tasks ahead", said Cengiz Aktar, Director of the EU Center of the Bahcesehir University in Istanbul and the initiator of a civil initiative called 'European Movement 2002' that has put pressure on legislators to speed up political reforms necessary to enter the negotiation phase with the EU.
The right of non-members of the EU to field European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) was recognised by Article 4 of Decision 1419/1999/EC. Following this decision, in 2000, 13 NGOs and representatives of local government, under the coordination of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and the Arts, began work on Istanbul winning the distinction. According to Mr Bagis, it was "a first in Turkish history that there was this much cooperation between various levels of Turkish government".
Mr Bagis moreover cautioned against a "fortress Europe" mentality characterised by "cultural uniformity, segregation and exclusion" which could only serve to alienate some five million Turks living in Europe. Instead, Europe should embrace cultural harmony: "Istanbul...