The World From Berlin Avoiding an EU-Turkey Ice Age
German Chancellor Merkel is meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on Thursday afternoon to discuss Turkey's accession to the EU. Commentators agree on the importance of these talks, but some worry that failure could cause an unacceptable cooling-off in Turkish-European relations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Turkey on Thursday for a two-day official visit. Her agenda includes a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan following a ceremony at the Atatürk Mausoleum in the Turkish capital Ankara.
Angela Merkel, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Berlin in 2003. In the past, her Christian Democratic party has been far from enthusiastic about Turkey's application for EU membership.
Shortly before her departure, Merkel emphasized in an interview with the mass-circulation newspaper Bild that "what is important to us is that Turkey meet its obligations and completely satisfy the criteria for accession" to the EU. In a separate editorial, Bild echoes Merkel's concern, saying that Turkey "has to stick to the rules" or else no one will gain anything from these talks. According to the paper, "Turkey would be well-advised to quickly grant Christians full freedom of religion, and to recognize its neighbor Cyprus."
Other observers have criticized the way in which established EU members, including Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, have treated Turkey's application for membership of the EU. Hakki Keskin, a leading member of the Turkish community in Germany, said in an interview with the Leipziger Volkszeitung on Thursday that it should come as no surprise that Turkish enthusiasm for the EU has dwindled, since "Turkey is not treated equally compared to other accession candidates." He said that "no matter what Turkey accomplishes, it will never be enough." At the same time, Keskin encouraged both the German and Turkish governments to move forward with the reform and accession process.
The business daily Handelsblatt also laments what it calls Europe's "increasing weariness of expansion" and Turkey's "rapid alienation from the EU." The paper considers the current situation to be a "solid crisis" and warns that a collapse of the talks would mean an "irreparable loss of image" for Germany and the EU. Moreover, "Ankara occupies an important key role in the Middle East." Therefore, the Handelsblatt encourages Turkey to continue on its reform path, and urges both sides to resolve any remaining issues standing in the way of Turkey's final accession.
One particular source of friction is the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has been divided into a Greek-controlled south and a Turkish-controlled north since 1974. Merkel has already indicated that she is expecting "a clear signal" from Turkey that it is willing to recognise Cyprus, which has been a member of the EU since May 2004.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes, however, that European anti-expansionists are merely "hiding behind the troublesome squabble over divided Cyprus, or are bringing new demands to the table, such as Paris' demand for the recognition of the Armenian genocide" during World War Two. This attitude has contributed to "a cooling of the Europe-euphoria" in Turkey. This is worrisome, the paper says, since "Berlin would certainly be blamed for a new ice age between Europe and Turkey" as soon as Germany assumes the next rotating EU-presidency in January 2007. According to the Süddeutsche, the conflict in Lebanon proves once again how badly the West needs Ankara as a partner and intermediary in the Islamic world and the Middle East.
Finally, the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung discusses the role of the military in Turkish politics. "The Turkish military sees itself as the guardian of the (Kemalist) constitution, the guarantor of the secular republic and a bastion against its Islamification." By advising the EU to abstain from criticism of the military's role in Turkish politics, the paper writes, Turkish General Chief of Staff Büyükanit "wants to reminds us of who is and will ultimately remain the motor of Turkey's modernization and 'Westernization,' and therefore also of its Europeanization." This reveals a different understanding of democracy, the FAZ writes, adding that "the Europeans could have known all of this before their decision to open the accession negotiations."