SPIEGEL Interview with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 'If the EU Doesn't Want Us, They Should Say it Now'

Part 2: "Germany Could Have Given us Greater Support"

SPIEGEL: Brussels complains that the pace of reforms in Turkey has slowed. For example, you still have the infamous Article 301, which makes the denigration of Turkishness prosecutable and limits freedom of opinion. The EU is also demanding complete freedom of religion.

Erdogan: In Turkey the religious minorities have more rights than they do in Europe. What aspect of their faith are they not allowed to live out here? Do we tear down their churches?

SPIEGEL: Churches are not allowed to own property, they are not a legal entity. Churches have been expropriated from many Christian communities.

Erdogan: We changed the construction law. Before, there were only "mosques," but now we have "places of worship." New churches are opening. We wanted to change the law on religious institutions, but the president didn’t sign it. Now we're sending it through parliament again. The courts have also started to return property of minority institutions that has been seized.

SPIEGEL: Why are churches still prohibited from training their own priests? The EU has been calling for the famous Greek-Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki near Istanbul to be reopened.

Erdogan's wife Emine, who wears a headscarf and doesn't get invitations to many public events: "Injustice has been done to a lot of women, including my wife."

Erdogan's wife Emine, who wears a headscarf and doesn't get invitations to many public events: "Injustice has been done to a lot of women, including my wife."

Erdogan: If they don't accept us into the EU because of Halki, so be it! This is a different situation. We have problems with Turkish law in this case. It used to be a high school, but now they want to transform it into a kind of university, but the high council for universities doesn't permit this.

SPIEGEL: Why are authors still tried in Turkey under Article 301?

Erdogan: I see that you are influenced by the Turkish press! Please check how many have been sentenced under this law or are in jail.

SPIEGEL: But people have been convicted. For example, murdered journalist Hrant Dink, who had Armenian roots, was sentenced to probation.

Erdogan: I met the writers who say that Article 301 must be completely eliminated. I asked them: Do you want to make it easier to decry the state, the parliament or the prime minister? I am saying yes to criticism, but no to insults. There are similar laws in Europe -- but for us it is about Turkishness, and for you it is about the German nation.

SPIEGEL: But we are protecting the state, there is no protection for "Germanness." So you don’t want to change 301?

Erdogan: I don’t think it should fall completely. The article also protects the right to criticize.

SPIEGEL: After former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who was a passionate supporter of Turkey's EU accession, you now have to get along with Chancellor Angela Merkel who is currently president of the EU and has in the past said that she only supports a "privileged partnership" with Turkey. Are you satisfied with the German EU leadership under Merkel?

Erdogan: We have now passed the half-way mark. Honestly, I expected more from Germany. We have special relations that cannot be compared to any other country in Europe. There are kinships. At least 50,000 Germans live along the Turkish Riviera, and when the German national team plays, we root for Germany.

SPIEGEL: What more could you have expected? At least under the German presidency, an additional chapter has been opened in the EU accession negotiations.

Erdogan: And there was the prospect of three more chapters. But altogether there are 35! We think the pace could be much faster. Back in December …

SPIEGEL: … when negotiations were partially suspended because of the row with Cyprus ...

Erdogan: ... Germany could have given us greater support. The decision was very disappointing for us.

SPIEGEL: Did the fact that Turkey was not invited to attend the EU's 50th anniversary celebrations in Berlin also upset you?

Erdogan: To tell you the truth, I felt hurt about that. It wasn't really necessary. I personally do believe that it was a big mistake. It overshadows the German EU presidency. What did she get from not inviting Turkey? She could have gained a lot by inviting us. We are two countries that need each other. As political leaders we will leave our offices one day, but our people will remain and have to get along with each other. So we shouldn’t give them negative messages.

SPIEGEL: The race for the influential office of the Turkish presidency begins starts this week. Will you run?

Erdogan: I haven't decided yet. I am still consulting with my party, with members of parliament and also non-government organizations. When I come back from Hanover on April 18, the AKP board will meet again. After that I will make my decision public.

SPIEGEL: The headscarf worn by your wife is said to be the biggest hurdle.

Erdogan: No, I don’t think this will be an obstacle. Our constitution tells us who is eligible to be president, but there is no mention of the headscarf. That should also be an expression of religious freedom.

SPIEGEL: You make it all sound so free of conflict. But as a matter of fact, in Turkey you do have a strict headscarf ban in schools, universities and public offices. And your wife Emine doesn't get invited to receptions held by current President Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

Erdogan: In that respect injustice has been done to a lot of women, including my wife. Until we came into power, women with headscarves were invited to visit the presidents, including Sezer. But then we won the elections and he didn't invite us. There is no legal basis for this discrimination.

SPIEGEL: But didn't you promise your religious voters that you would ease the headscarf ban?

Erdogan: No. To me, that isn't a question of getting votes -- it's a question of freedom. I said we need a consensus between people in society and among the public institutions, only then can we overcome this problem. My own daughters weren’t able to study in Turkey because of their headscarves, so they went to the United States.

SPIEGEL: If you don't run for president, will Sezer's successor still come from your party?

Erdogan: I am sure about that. We currently have 354 seats in parliament -- this is the majority that is enough to elect the president in the third round. Why would we give that up?

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Annette Grossbongardt and Joachim Preuss in Ankara.


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