Emergence of an eTurkey. By Itir Akdogan

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Helsinki - For more than 40 years Turkey has been taking certain measures to reach the European Union criteria of a member state. As part of a drive to increase innovation in and access to technology, the EU has allocated more than 100 billion euros for the i2010 Programme to create a "Single European Information Space", in which innovation and investment in technology is a priority. Becoming an information society is one of the reforms Turkey is undertaking to increase its chances of joining the EU.
The eTransformation Turkey Project was initiated by the Turkish government in February 2003 and supported by governmental, private and non-profit organisations alike. The goals were to adapt Europe`s action plan for technological development to Turkey, facilitate the participation of the public in the decision-making process through the use of technology, and apply the same principles to both the government and private sectors.
In recent years, the eTransformation Turkey Project has become a leading factor in the country`s democratisation process. For example, public servants were previously inaccessible and there was an established distance between citizens and the state. But now, five years after the project began, governmental institutions explain their mandates and communicate with the public through the web, and public servants are accessible by email. Turkish citizens, no matter how remote their location, can access information on Ankara.
In an effort to organise and affect public policy, Turkish civil society is also taking advantage of these new technologies and applying them to the public domain. For example, some groups have used e-mail petitions and online social networking tools such as Facebook to rally against certain government`s policies and communicate their interests. They have succeeded in gathering a record number of supporters for their causes. And public institutions have responded in kind by improving their work by offering public services online, such as paying bills and filing taxes, while focusing on the public`s needs.
This technology also comes in handy for candidates during election time. Those with websites, such as the independent candidate Ufuk Uras, organised their supporters online, and enjoyed success in the July 2007 national parliamentary elections.
According to a high level Turkish officer, increased communication made possible by technology may also help to implement further democratisation reforms within the public sector itself, sweeping away unnecessary bureaucracy resulting from a time consuming vertical hierarchy and creating a more horizontal structure among public servants. The results are a new and more effective working culture.
Public servants can compare their outputs and working conditions with employees in other public institutions because it is easier for them now to access monitoring and evaluation information provided online. This affords them the tools to gain a broader perspective within their professions and allows them to demand better working conditions.
Although technology often takes a back seat to economic and political matters, successful technological development could help facilitate Turkey`s membership to the EU, creating an environment in which communication is increased between the two parties and providing a platform â€" the eTransformation Turkey Project â€" for Turkey and Europe to work together.
Though more can be done, the eTransformation Turkey Project is crucial for Turkey`s democratisation process. Therefore, this project should be given priority and could benefit from an increased share of the annual 500 million euros Turkey is receiving from the EU as a candidate country. Advancements in communication and technology will undoubtedly help Turks gain a foothold in the first world.

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* Itir Akdogan is a PhD candidate and lecturer at the University of Helsinki. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

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