Turkish Premier Erdogan is in Berlin on Friday to discuss Ankara’s EU bid at a time when German conservatives are renewing their staunch opposition to it.
Paving the way for Ankara's entry into the EU -- Erdogan, left, with German Chancellor Schröder.
For the first time since the collapse of EU constitution talks last month, top representatives from 29 European nations will meet in Berlin on Friday to discuss the future of Europe.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Irish Prime Minister and current President of the rotating EU presidency, Bertie Ahern, and Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will attend the forum organized by German media giant Bertelsmann. Other high-profile guests include the leaders of Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Latvia as well as Spanish and Polish foreign ministers. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder originally planned to attend the event, but had to cancel due to the flue.
Ankara’s EU bid a divisive issue
While EU leaders thrash out the finer points of kickstarting the EU motor, observers will be closely watching a meeting scheduled on the fringes between Fischer and Erdogan.
The talks are expected to center on Ankara’s attempt to enter the European Union that will expand to 25 in May, when it takes in ten new mainly former communist East European countries. Ankara has been struggling with a reform process meant to fulfill EU criteria agreed upon in a summit in Copenhagen in Dec. 2002. Brussels has now offered to grant an audience to Turkey at the end of 2004 to decide whether the bloc should open negotiations for possible EU membership.
Turkish membership has proved a divisive issue among European politicians, with some wary of admitting the predominantly Muslim country into a largely Christian EU.
Chancellor Schröder and his government have remained some of the strongest backers of Turkey’s EU aspirations and made a strong endorsement last November, arguing that it would provide a bridge to the Islamic world and greatly improve European security.
German conservatives up in arms
However, just this week Germany’s opposition conservatives reiterated opposition to Turkey’s EU bid as part of their campaign for June’s European Parliament election.
Michael Glos (photo), parliamentary leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) told a party meeting this week that Turkish membership in the EU would place too many demands on the EU’s ability to integrate new members and said they would make it an election issue, though "without any hint of xenophobia."
Glos has accused Schröder’s Social Democratic Party of supporting Turkey’s bid merely as an attempt to win the 50,000-strong Turkish vote in the country. Former Christian Democratic leader and head of foreign policy, Wolfgang Schäuble, suggested that the EU should offer Turkey a "privileged partnership" instead of outright membership.
Schröder has clashed with the conservatives on the issue in the past. In November last year, he slammed a conservative politician, who had suggested that bomb attacks in Istanbul the same month hurt Turkey’s EU membership chances because the EU did not want to risk importing militant Islam. Schröder insisted that the opposite would be true if Turkey, a secular Muslim democracy and NATO ally, were to gain EU entry.
Erdogan to visit "Little Istanbul"
In addition to drumming up support for EU membership and meeting with high-ranking politicians, Erdogan will visit Berlin's Kreuzberg district, also known as "Little Istanbul" on account of its predominantly Turkish population. With its 126,000 Turkish residents, Berlin is home to the largest migrant group outside of Turkey.
As the first Turkish leader to visit the famed cultural melting pot, Erdogan will also become the first Turkish politician to officially call for the integration of Turks in German society and urge them to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. While touring the neighborhood, Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Turkish entrepreneurs and politicians as well as the Berlin mayor.
Mehpare Bozyigit-Kirchmann, director of Tüsiad, the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association organizing Erdogan’s Berlin visit, said Kreuzberg was selected because it didn’t just offer the dark side of immigration, but also its positive side visible in the lively coexistence of different cultures.