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Germany

Opinion: Erdogan softens stance

Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan has urged his fellow countrymen living in Germany to make more of an effort toward integration - a startling change of tack, says DW's Bahaeddin Güngör.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is always good for a surprise: during previous visits to Germany, he harshly criticized German integration policies, branding assimilation as a "crime against humanity" - this time, he was much more restrained. What is the reason for Erdogan's astonishing turnabout? Why does he now urge Turkish people to integrate in "Almanya"?

Mutual interests

Turkey is on its way to becoming a regional power; the country is proud of economic growth unequalled in Europe and, as a NATO state, it is taking on an increasingly important role as an advocate of western strategies in numerous conflicts in the neighborhood. It needs constant support from the EU - mainly from Germany - in order to continue this positive development from being a marginal emerging market to becoming an economic power. Turkey conducts about 37 percent of its foreign trade with EU member states. The country wants to join the EU and can only realize this goal - if at all - with the help of Germany. Erdogan knows that tensions in German-Turkish relations would harm his EU ambitions.

Germany, on the other hand, knows that Turkey, situated at the intersection between Europe and the Middle East, must keep its EU target in its sights. The country is too important for geostrategic reasons- for instance, to ensure Europe's energy supply - for it to be lost to Europe. Clearly, if Turkey were forced to redefine itself and remain aloof from Europe, that would be to Europe's detriment - and not just for economic reasons.

Homework done

The situation of non-Muslim minorities in Turkey has improved somewhat, but it is still far from ideal. Communities such as Turkey's Alawites, but also journalists and intellectuals, complain about massive discrimination, prosecution and arbitrary arrests. The EU can only credibly demand reform from Turkey as long as Turkey is still interested in joining.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel travels to Turkey in February 2013 - a courageous move in an election year. Until then, her government has quite some homework to do. Among the issues which have to be dealt with are relaxed visa rules for businessmen, artists and students and the introduction of dual citizenship. Inviting Turkey once more to EU summit meetings would be another very positive signal. After all, Turkey is not just any old country; it deserves to be regarded as a full-fledged partner for Europe.

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