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Germany

'Turkey is not yet ready to enter the EU'

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday in Berlin. Cem Özdemir, co-chairman of the German Greens Party, takes a look at where bilateral relations stand.

There are plenty of issues for Erdogan and Merkel to discuss: on the Turkish side, they include the series of murders of Turkish immigrants by a neo-Nazi terror gang, Turkey's long-standing efforts to join the EU and German integration policy for its large Turkish community. Germany, on the other hand, is worried about an increased Islamization of Turkish politics and the oppression of minorities. Dirk Müller of Deutschlandfunk radio spoke to Cem Özdemir, joint head of Germany's Green party, who himself comes from a Turkish family.

Dirk Müller: Why can't Germany seem to get friendly with Erdogan?

Cem Özdemir: That is a good question. I feel that Erdogan's speeches in Germany now follow a certain pattern - this time he's even urged people to read Kant and Goethe, and [the Turkish] president recently demanded Turks in Germany should speak German without an accent. It is my impression that people negatively filter his speeches. That is not meant as a justification of everything he says, even of the things he says which can be misunderstood. It takes two: one who uses unclear formulations but also those who deliberately want to misunderstand him. I remember when some journalists came to see me after his last speech in Berlin, they were really disappointed. They complained that all he did was speak about integration: he told Turks to learn German and assimilate. That confirms my assumption: there is a kind of ritual. Erdogan is a power politician: he is a master of playing a populist register like no other; and, unfortunately, to a certain extent, Turkish election campaigns are increasingly spilling over into Germany. But that is partly due to the fact that Turks living in Germany for many years were denied citizenship, so that now, first-generation Turks who came to Germany to work are still Turkish citizens - they can vote in Turkey, so of course that makes them a target group.

Where is the problem then?

The first Turkish workers waiting to be processed on arrival in Germany in 1970 Photo: Bertram dpa

Many Turkish workers who came in the 70s are still Turkish citizens

The problem is on both sides. We've now reached the point where Turkey pretends to still be seriously negotiating with the goal of membership [of the EU], pretends to still believe in it, and Angela Merkel and others in Berlin - but also in Brussels - pretend to seriously offer Turkey membership. These "pretend" negotiations are harmful to both sides. They damage Turkey because it pushes it to set the wrong emphasis by directing itself away from Europe, and it creates a self-confidence that is dangerous for Turkey because it tempts it to overrate its own hand. And they do a disservice to Germany because, now of all times, with the conflict in Syria, as well as with the entire Arab region and North Africa, we have an urgent need to cooperate more closely with Turkey.

But if Turkey no longer wants to join Europe, and Erdogan basically does not want to be an EU member - doesn't that mean we have one less problem?

No. I believe most Turks would still want accession, but they have lost all faith that it'll happen. We know that the economic growth over the past years in Turkey has also immensely boosted Turkish self-confidence: in opinion polls, many Turks answer the question with no: and by that they mean: if they don't want us, we don't want them. It is a bit different where Erdogan is concerned. I am not sure he would prefer a different political constellation in Germany. I believe he has come to terms with [Christian Democrat] Chancellor Merkel, and a government involving the Social Democrats and the Greens would be less pleasant. We would put pressure on Turkey for reform, because we would say, if you want to join the EU, than hurry up and solve the Kurdish problem, get going on religious minorities, the rule of law and democracy.

How democratic is Erdogan?

Cem Özdemir - Copyright: DW/Kıvanc Ozvardar

Özdemir says Turkey needs a stronger opposition

Erdogan is a man who is tempted to view power not as something which has only been given to him for a time. I believe a stronger opposition would serve Turkey well and it would be good for Erdogan if he had more critics within his party and didn't turn Turkey into a kind of more modern Russia. Turkey can not just focus on economic growth - it also needs a parliamentary democracy with a strong constitutional state.

Talking about Russia makes one think of the term "directed democracy." Is Turkey a directed democracy?

Turkey is a parliamentary democracy with elections and everything else it takes, but the judicial system was long marked by the fact that freedom of opinion has not been taken very seriously. Remember the role the military used to play - thank God that has changed. But the influence of the military should clearly not be replaced the influence of a party - that is a major deficiency in Turkey. I don't want to blame the AK Party and Erdogan alone for that fact; we also didn't necessarily help give the right impulses - just remember the Cyprus conflict, where Turkey had moved in the right direction and was advocating reunification. Then the nationalists asserted themselves in the south, the Greek part of the island. If the outcome had been different, that would have been the right incentive for Turkey. Turkey's reaction was instead: the Europeans aren't serious, they don't keep their word once they have reached an agreement. That certainly didn't contribute to strengthening pro-European forces.

Is Turkey not yet qualified to join the EU?

At this point, Turkey is not yet mature enough for membership. But there have been surprising changes. Just a few years ago, no one would have imagined that you can speak openly in Turkey today about the Kurdish question. Also the situation of the Christians has improved. But there is still a long road ahead. Our goal must be to keep Turkey on course, even to hasten the journey and do whatever we can so Turkey does not go down a different path.

Interview: Dirk Müller / db

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