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Waiting for EU

Sean Sinico
September 16, 2004

Many members of the Turkish-German community aren't exactly sure what Turkey's membership in the EU would mean for them personally. But that doesn't keep them from hoping it will eventually happen.

Ibrahim Tasar uses German ingredients and Turkish recipesImage: DW

Take a peek inside the fruit and vegetable store where Kahalid Saeed Aydin works, and it looks like Turkey is already part of the European Union. He sells Italian grapes and nectarines, Spanish oranges and German apples. In the refrigerated case by the cash register French and Turkish sheep cheese soak in brine next to each other, on sale for the same price.

But the inside of the store in the western German city of Koblenz is deceptive. Turkey is not part of the EU, but it's been an official candidate for membership since 1999. An independent commission on Turkey will report on its findings, which call the beginning of accession talks "politically imperative," in Vienna Thursday.

Türken in Deutschland
About half the products Kahalid Saeed Aydin sells come from TurkeyImage: DW

Though generally not interested in politics, Aydin (photo) said Turkey joining the EU would be good, but wouldn't have a large effect on his own life, as he is "already in the EU."

Other Turks in Germany -- who total 2.6 million and make up the country's largest immigrant group -- echo his feelings and wonder what concrete changes EU membership would have for them.

"What should change with the EU," asked Ibrahim Tasar, the owner of three snack bars in Bonn, who has lived in Germany since 1992. "I have my business; I can travel; I work hard. The EU won't change that."

Psychological changes

Tag der Türken in Berlin
The Turkish community is Germany's largest immigrant groupImage: AP

Observers of the German-Turkish community agree that people with Turkish roots living in Germany will have to keep working hard, but some emotional changes could take place if the European Council decides to start accession negotiations with Ankara when it meets in December.

"People would have a sense of social recognition similar to that of Germans or other minorities in Germany -- that's the main motive behind their support," Dirk Halm, a spokesman for the Center for Studies on Turkey at Duisburg-Essen University, told DW-WORLD.

It's emotional changes, not economic benefits, that most interest Mustafa Schat, head of the German-Turkish Economic Center in Cologne.

"It would change the discussions about Turkish people in Germany," he said. "I could say, 'We Europeans.' It would be clear to everyone that Turkey belongs to Europe."

Does Turkey belong in Europe?

Türkei als EU-Mitglied?
Is there a place for a crescent in the Europe's star-filled flag?

Currently, not everyone in the EU agrees on Turkey's place in Europe. EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischer has called Turkey "much more oriental than European" and campaigned against starting negations with the country.

On the other hand, Tasar, the snack bar owner, and the independent commission, affirm Turkey is part of Europe, with the report describing the country as a society oriented "toward Europe and the West."

Already a key member of NATO, part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and playing in Europe's soccer scene, the EU is one of the only European organizations where Turkey does not have a seat.

Economic changes already happened

About 75 percent of Turkey's 70 million people would vote to join the EU, mostly for economic reasons, according to the report. But there would be few economic benefits for Turkish people and businesses that have already put down their roots in Germany.

Germany has had an import-export deal with Turkey since 1996, which would decrease the economic effects of EU membership since there aren't many trade barriers now, Center for Studies on Turkey spokesman Halm said.

"Our status as a partner has already brought a positive economic effect," Schat of the German-Turkish Economic Center said. "Many Turk-run companies here don't rely on the Turkish market or Turkish goods."

There could, however, be advantages for companies in the service, transport and tourism industries if Turkey is admitted to the EU, he added.

Reforms are key

Günter Verheugen
Expansion Commissioner Verheugen thinks 2015 is the earliest Turkey could join the EUImage: AP

Before any possible negotiations end, making Turkey a full EU member, which could happen in 2015 "at the earliest," according to European Expansion Commissioner Günter Verheugen (photo), politicians want to be sure Ankara is serious about its reforms -- which the Turkish-German community is also interested in.

Members of the community are especially keen on seeing Turkey's reforms continue, as their families are directly affected.

"It is going to be a much bigger change for the people in Turkey than for the Turkish people in Germany," Tasar said. "Turkey still has problems -- for example, with the Kurds -- that it needs to solve before it can join the EU."

In an effort to show Europe it's ready to begin talks, in the last two years Turkey has passed laws increasing freedom of speech and reducing the role of the military, with the latest batch coming two weeks ago.

Turkey is counting on receiving a date; all of their reforms had the goal of getting them ready for the EU, Halm said. He expects the country to receive one from the European Council in December.

"I think once Turkey is admitted to the EU, people will ask themselves, 'Why didn't we do this 10 years ago?,'" Tasar said.

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