German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday. After the meeting, Schröder said Turkey had "clear prospects" for eventual entry into the EU.
All smiles now, but there's serious work ahead for Turkey and the EU
Turkey's accession to the European Union is a central topic for Schröder's brief trip to Turkey. The German leader arrived in Ankara on Tuesday evening and had an inofficial, private meeting with Erdogan.
On Wednesday, after early-morning official talks with the prime minister, Schröder said at a press conference that Turkey was on the road to EU membership, but that the country needed to maintain the dynamic of the reforms Brussels says are necessary if the negotiations are to begin "promptly on October 3."
Turkey is scheduled to begin the accession talks in early October, but the membership process is widely expected to take at least a decade.
Schröder added that such important strategic decisions, such as entry into the EU, should not depend on ever-changing opinion polls. While just a short time ago, some 80 percent of the Turkish populace was in favor of EU membership, that number has recently dropped to 60 percent.
Before Schröder left for Turkey, he told a Turkish newspaper that the continuation of reforms in Turkey was crucial to the success of the country's EU bid.
"The reforms must be further implemented, and we should be assured of their irreversibility," Schröder told the Turkish daily Milliyet.
Turkey's flag and those of other EU candidates flew in Brussels
He was referring especially to reforms affecting fundamental freedoms, as well as minority and human rights. In the past weeks, Prime Minister Erdogan has been accused of letting his country's reform efforts lose momentum.
However, on the eve of this visit, Schröder praised the "impressive reform policies" of the Turkish government. He noted that Erdogan himself has implied that a "change in mentality" is necessary before the policies can be put into effect.
"Such a change in mentality won't take place overnight. But it is necessary in order for reforms and changes in the law to become everyday, widely accepted practices," Schröder told the newspaper.
'Difficult' negotiations ahead
The progress of the reform process will make a decisive difference in determining how the developments of the EU talks, Schröder told the paper. "The negotiations themselves will certainly be long and also difficult."
The chancellor noted that Turkey needs to enlarge its EU tariff agreements with the new member states by October 3 -- which will mean a de facto recognition of Cyprus by Ankara.
Turkish newspapers celebrated the accession accord talks
"A speedy solution to the Cyprus problem would of course make the accession talks much easier,» Schröder said.
Schröder agreed with Turkey's suggestion of forming a history commission to handle discussions of the massacre of Armenians 90 years ago, in what was then known as the Ottoman Empire.
Business and Church
Schröder will also meet President Ahmet Necdet Sezer before heading to Istanbul on Wednesday, where he is scheduled to meet the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. He will also attend a German-Turkish economic forum in Istanbul.
With 2.5 million people of Turkish origin living within its borders, Germany is Turkey's main economic partner.