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Europe

German Press Review: Schröder's Nod to Turkey

Editorial comment in Tuesday's German papers focused on Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's visit to Ankara and on Israel's West Bank security barrier currently under scrutiny at the World Court in The Hague.

Some German papers thought Gerhard Schröder is making a mistake in encouraging Turkey to join the European Union. Bild in Hamburg said that if Turkey was an EU member, then agricultural and structural aid to the country would cost billions of Euros. A lot of that money would have to come from Germany. Turkey, Bild said, would be the first big Islamic country to become part of Europe. It has common borders with Syria, Iran, and Iraq. In May, 10 new countries will join the EU and Ukraine is already knocking on the door. The paper called on EU politicians to reflect on whether they want a European Europe, or a big conglomeration of countries that groans and moans under its own weight -- and then breaks apart.

The Leipziger Volkszeitung attributed Schröder's overtures to Turkey as part of a political strategy to win over the votes of Turks living in Germany. Offering Turkey German backing for EU entry talks distinguishes Schröder clearly from his political opponents, the opposition Christian Democratic Union. They reject EU membership for Turkey, favouring instead a "privileged partnership" between Ankara and the EU. But Turkish entry, assuming it takes place at all, won't happen until 2015 at the earliest said the the paper.

The TZ in Munich said one argument in favor of Turkish membership is that 3 percent of Turks already reside on European territory, but on those grounds you could also offer EU membership to Israel. Turkey has a Jewish-Christian tradition as well as an Islamic one, and shares certain European values, the daily observed. "Can we afford to pay for Turkish entry and where would Turkey drift if it didn't join the EU," is the most important question, according to the paper.

The Märkische Allgemeine from Potsdam cautiously defended Schröder's stance. A "privileged partnership" would be simply a polite rejection of EU membership. Turkey, wrote the paper, would take a "no" from Brussels as a severe rebuff from the West, which might have adverse political consequences. It is important that entry talks are conducted as honestly as possible and that they don't lead to full EU membership automatically, wrote the paper.

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung from Essen also believed Schröder's policy towards Turkey is based on sound judgement. If Turkey isn't allowed to start entry negotiations, its reform process will come to an abrupt end. In some ways Turkey is doing better than former Soviet states that are joining this year, the daily said. If Turkey does have a chance of joining the EU, then Europe will be able to exert more influence on the country's development.

German papers also looked at the West Bank barrier which Israel says is meant to keep out suicide bombers, but Palestinians call a land grab that violates human rights. The barrier is under scrutiny at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin said there are now fewer terror attacks from the regions that have been isolated by the fence -- just as Ariel Sharon had promised.