German Opposition Stays Tough on Turkey′s EU Bid | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.02.2004
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German Opposition Stays Tough on Turkey's EU Bid

Angela Merkel, head of Germany's Christian Democrats, is in Ankara to discuss Turkey's EU bid. Her party opposes full membership for the largely Muslim nation, and has instead called for a special EU partnership.


No strangers -- Merkel (left) with Turkish Premier Erdogan last year.

On Monday the leader of Germany's conservative opposition is expected to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minster Abdullah Gül to discuss the country's application for membership to the 15-nation EU bloc. But given the fact that the Christian Democrats (CDU) have been vocally opposed to Turkey entering the EU, Merkel's views are unlikely to be well received in Ankara.

Privileged partnership instead of full membership

On the eve of her two-day visit, Merkel stressed in a German television interview that the CDU remains against full EU membership for Turkey, but is in favor of a special privileged EU-Turkey partnership. "We should be honest with each other," Merkel said. She acknowledged that Turkey naturally had a European perspective, and added, "We’re offering it a privileged partnership."

Merkel explained that with the upcoming expansion of the EU, the bloc is already facing "massive problems." The inclusion of 10 new, mainly former communist Eastern European countries is placing a great strain on Brussels, she said.

In light of the budgetary problems that will inevitably arise with EU expansion, Merkel added, "We know what it would mean if an additional 25 million Turkish farmers came along." The CDU leader said it was best not to mince words on the issue. "One can live with differences of opinion among friends," she stressed.

Turkish EU bid a divisive issue in Germany

With some two million Turks, Germany has the largest Turkish minority in the European Union -- a fact that has made Turkey’s EU bid a divisive issue among German politicians.

While Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his government have remained some of the strongest backers of Turkey’s EU aspirations, arguing that it would provide a bridge to the Islamic world and greatly improve European security, the opposition insists that Turkey with its predominantly Muslim population and its radically different cultural and religious sensibilities would jar with European reality.

"We should not give Turkey any false promises, because then there will be disappointment," Merkel said last month at a congress of the European People’s Party (EPP), which brings together conservative parties from across the EU.

"We want a special partnership, a third way with Turkey, because for security and geopolitical reasons it is very important for us to have very close relations with Turkey," she said.

German conservatives have now announced that the issue of Turkey’s membership will play a pivotal role in European Parliament elections in June.

Membership talks still distant for Turkey

Turkey first sought to join the bloc in 1963, but has yet to start accession talks with the EU which cites human rights as the main concern blocking negotiations. Brussels has now offered to grant an audience to Turkey at the end of 2004 to decide whether the bloc should open negotiations for possible EU membership.

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