German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is paying a farewell visit to Turkey, where he enjoys popularity due to his support for Turkey's EU membership bid. The same can not be said for Schröder's successor, Angela Merkel.
A shared passion for soccer and politics
Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be rolling out the red carpet for Schröder, who will be the guest of honor at an Iftar dinner in Istanbul on Wednesday. Iftar is a special meal for Muslims after breaking a day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
"We would like to thank the chancellor for his help during the past three years and would like to honor him because of that," Cuneyed Zapsu, Erdogan's European affairs advisor, said of the special treatment afforded to Schröder.
Turkey's powerful ally
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder playing soccer.
Zapsu said that although the two leaders come from different sides of the political spectrum, they have much in common. In addition to a love for soccer, both men have similar humble backgrounds as well as a passion for campaigning.
A powerful ally, Germany has proved invaluable to Turkey, especially as it seeks to join the European Union. The German chancellor’s support was crucial, both in December, when EU leaders agreed to start accession talks with Turkey, and in negotiations earlier this month to officially open the talks.
"Psychologically it is very important if there is somebody that understands you and tells they would like to help -- that is enough to give you more strength in the psychologically very difficult talks we had," Zapsu said.
Business leaders look to Merkel
German opposition party leader Angela Merkel (L) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) address the media in Ankara, Turkey on Monday 16 February 2004.
There are concerns in Turkey that Angela Merkel, now set to succeed Gerhard Schröder as chancellor, could threaten the country's aspirations to join the EU. Merkel has repeatedly spoken out against Turkish EU membership, calling instead for a "privileged partnership."
But some Turkish business leaders with strong links to Germany are confident that the political and economic realities will make her change her stance.
"When you have the responsibility of government you take wise decisions, so I expect Ms Merkel will tone down her rhetoric about Turkey," said Ishak Alaton founder of Turkish engineering company Alarko. "I expect investments both from Turkey towards Germany and investments of German companies in Turkey to increase in size and capacity. So I am looking forward to better and stronger relations between Germany and Turkey."
Erdogan and Merkel may not share similar personal interests, but they both come from the center-right of the political spectrum and value strong ties to the United States. While Erdogan will be keen to show gratitude to Schröder for his friendship and loyalty, Turkish eyes are already looking to the future and, specifically, how to woo Germany’s next chancellor.