With talks over Turkey's EU entry set to begin on Monday, it's still not clear whether the bloc will offer Turkey full membership or an alternative deal -- an issue that's also causing discord among Germany's parties.
Gerhard Schröder is in favor of integrating Turkey in the EU
Some see it as an opportunity, others as a threat. When it comes to the topic of Turkey's EU candidacy, the positions of Germany's main parties vary greatly. On one side of the debate are the Social Democrats and the Greens, who have lobbied in favor of Turkey joining the EU throughout their past seven years as Germany's ruling coalition. The conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), on the other hand, would rather not even see Ankara approach the negotiating table.
Schröder: 10 to 15 years
In his last address on European policy before the Bundestag, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder appealed once again to the skeptics.
"Negotiations on Turkey's entry will take between 10 and 15 years," Schröder said. "The negotiation concept provides for the possibility of limiting labor migration to zero. It allows for either side to call a moratorium or break off the talks at any time. That makes it an appropriate instrument to achieve the goal, without placing any EU country, including Germany, in undue difficulty."
Merkel: Europe can't take it
CDU leader Angela Merkel during a visit to Istanbul in February 2004
But difficulties for Germany and for the entire European Union are exactly what CDU leader Angela Merkel fears, should Turkey be admitted. She has repeatedly rejected the goal of full membership for Turkey, and has made that part of her election platform.
"We base our position first and foremost on the question, what can the EU afford to do given its present composition?" Merkel said. "We're currently 25 members, and we're taking on two more members with Romania and Bulgaria. One of the central questions is whether the EU's ability to integrate new members will suffer. I don't think Europe can take it right now, and that's why we're in favor of a privileged partnership."
Bordering on Asia
The CSU's European policy expert, Gerd Müller, said that the parallel strategies of both deepening and expanding the EU are a grand deception. "You can't force political union with a European constitution, transfer considerable amounts of national responsibility to the central authorities in Brussels, and at the same time extend European borders all the way to Anatolia, to Central Asia," he said.
But that's exactly the geopolitical strategy that the Greens and Social Democrats think is the right strategy to make Europe safer -- a position that Schröder has been promoting ever more in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
"If, in Turkey, we can successfully bind a non-fundamentalist Islamic state with the values of the West, then we will have increased the security of Germany and Europe immeasurably," Schröder said.
The SPD and Greens are aware, however, that Turkey is not yet ready for membership, despite the efforts of the Turkish government to introduce reforms.
Greens: Stopping torture
Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein (r), Greens leader Claudia Roth (l) and the federal commissioner for foreigners in Germany, Marie-Luise Beck at an anti-terror demo in Cologne in November 2004. Germany's Turkish Islamist Union called on 20,000 supporters to attend.
The introduction of new laws in Turkey alone is not enough, said leading Greens politician Claudia Roth. "On paper, some really important legal measures have been passed, but now we have to ensure that they are put into practice, especially when it comes to the 'no tolerance' policy on torture and abuse," she said. The door to the EU will only remain open as long as Turkey continues to pursue its reforms and fulfil the criteria set out by Brussels -- one point that all the German parties can agree on.
Turkey and a grand coalition
The CDU may have failed in its appeal to Brussels to guarantee that its notion of a privileged partnership would be a potential outcome of the negotiations, but it is holding firm to its concept nonetheless. That's why, in a possible grand coalition with the SPD, Turkey's EU accession will continue to pop up on the government's agenda -- at the very latest, when the first difficulties in the negotiations emerge.