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Europe

German Chancellor Will Support Ankara in EU Drive

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder began talks Monday morning with Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. Unlike the German opposition, Schröder wants to give the country hope for the EU.

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This way to the EU, please: Erdogan and Schröder

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was unequivocal in his support for Turkey's efforts to join the European Union upon his arrival in Ankara Sunday evening.

"One needs to deal fairly with Turkey and fair means that you stand by your word," Schröder said. "I stand by my word."

The German leader's pro-Ankara stance is diametrically opposed to that of German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel. On a visit to the Turkish capital last week, Merkel talked about a "privileged partnership" rather than full EU membership.

Her host seemed everything but pleased. "That's not been talked about so far and we certainly don't plan on considering it," Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Angela Merkel beim Patriarchen Bartholomäus II

Angela Merkel met with Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I at the patriarchate in Istanbul during her visit to Turkey last week.

Merkel's suggestion is not without reason, however. She believes the EU, which will add 10 new member states in May, would not be able to handle the challenge to integrate Turkey with its population of 70 million and an economic power that only amounts to 23 percent of the EU average.

That's why Turkey should not become an EU member and instead be rewarded for its reform efforts with a close relationship to the union, according to Merkel.

A fair chance

At best, that's a weak consolation prize from Turkey's point of view. The German chancellor knows this: His coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens therefore demands to give Turkey a fair chance during the EU application process.

Unlike conservative European political circles, the German government hasn't seen Turkey's Islamic cultural imprint as a hindrance to EU membership. Instead, the government sees the country's inclusion in the union as a chance for dialogue between cultures and a possible example for the successful democratization within the Islamic world.

While a possible membership is still years away, Schröder believes the union needs to keep its promise to initiate accession talks should Turkey manage to fulfil the criteria.

Since the association treaty of 1963, Turkey's been told that the process of rapprochement includes the possibility of a future EU membership, the chancellor said. "The expectations raised by this cannot and may not be disappointed," Schröder added.

Will Germany open the door to EU membership?

Türkische Fußball Fans in Kreuzberg

Turkish soccer fans in Berlin's Kreuzberg district.

Turkey on the other hand views Germany as the country that can open the door to EU membership. Reasons for that include the 2.5 million Turkish people now living in Germany as a result of so-called guest worker recruitment since the 1960s.

The two countries also have historical ties: They were allies during World War I and Ankara granted asylum to German scientists persecuted during the Nazi dictatorship. The scientists in turn helped Turkey to set up a modern university system.

But Erdogan won't need to remind Schröder of this. He's got better arguments to convince the chancellor to push for the initiation of membership talks at the end of the year. The Turkish leader and his reform-oriented Islamic party have managed to introduce reforms such as the abolishment of the death penalty previous western oriented Turkish governments failed to secure.

Even human rights organization Amnesty International now talks of significant progress even though problems implementing the reforms still exist. Erdogan has another trump card as well: He's backed efforts to reach a solution in Cyprus, where reunification talks ahead of the country's EU membership in May are under way. He's expected to make clear to Schröder what he expects in return.

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