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EU Pressures Turkey as Merkel Prepares for Erdogan Visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will receive Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan next week for their first formal meeting since she took office amid renewed calls from the EU for Turkey to step up its reforms.

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Merkel met Erdogan as opposition leader but her role as chancellor brings new challenges

Merkel and Erdogan will hold talks at the chancellery next Friday and later open a German-Turkish economics conference in Berlin, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said on Friday.

The German chancellor last year accepted an invitation by Erdogan to visit Turkey but no date has been set for a visit.

Germany is home to 2.5 million Turks, the biggest Turkish community in Europe.

During her election campaign last year, Merkel angered Germany's Turks by opposing Ankara's bid to join the European Union, offering a "privileged partnership" instead of membership.

Her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, had championed Turkey's accession hopes.

Galerie Türkei Gerhard Schröder und Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Schröder enjoyed warm relations with Erdogan

However, in subsequent EU talks as well as in the power-sharing deal between Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, the chancellor dropped her opposition to the opening of membership negotiations with Turkey.

Turkey's EU accession plans are likely to feature prominently in the discussions between Merkel and Erdogan, with membership far from assured.

EU urging Ankara to step up reforms

In October, the EU made Turkey a candidate for membership but said that the accession process could take longer than a decade and gave no guarantee that Ankara would even be able to enter the European club at the end of it.

On Friday, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn warned Ankara that it had to step up the pace of reforms if it wanted to avoid any delay in its quest to join the European Union.

"There is a sense of urgency and it is now the time for Turkey to regain the momentum of reforms, and enhance rule of law, human rights and freedoms," Rehn told reporters in Brussels.

Die türkische Flagge und EU-Flagge p178

Partner or member state?

"By speeding up the reform process, we can avoid negative repercussions in the negotiation process," he said after talks with visiting Turkish chief negotiator Ali Babacan, who is also economy minister.

Rehn did not elaborate on what those repercussions might be.

European opposition hindering Turkey's progress

According to a survey sponsored by the European Commission and published in December, 55 percent of EU citizens are opposed to Turkey joining the bloc.

Countries like Austria, Cyprus and Greece, and to a lesser extent Germany, are also against bringing a poor mainly-Muslim state in the 25-member Union.

Brussels and Ankara are still trying to start the long process of detailed negotiations on 35 subjects, known as chapters, to bring Turkish laws into line with EU norms.

"We expect we can open at least one chapter of negotiations in June," Rehn said.

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