'They Will Give In': Turkey Pressures Germany on EU Accession

By Jürgen Gottschlich in Istanbul

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and German Chancellor Merkel in Berlin last fall. Zoom
AFP

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and German Chancellor Merkel in Berlin last fall.

A European commissioner's remark that Germany and France would one day come crawling "on their knees" begging Turkey to join the EU has miffed Berlin and thrilled Ankara. As German Chancellor Merkel prepares for a visit to Turkey, the country is pushing for concessions.

The Turkish press certainly wasn't going to let this one go by. The comment made by European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, a German, made almost all of the front pages of the country's newspapers. "I would like to bet that one day in the next decade a German chancellor and his or her counterpart in Paris will have to crawl to Ankara on their knees to beg the Turks, 'Friends, come to us'," he reportedly said during a speech at the Brussels office of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on Monday.

Such a gesture of humility appeals to the Turks, who feel they have been kept at arm's length for years when it comes to joining the European Union. But while Oettinger is being praised for his prediction in Turkey, his comments, reported by the German tabloid Bild, have dismayed his fellow Europeans.

Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemin Bagis said that he is not sure whether the Europeans will one day "come grovelling or sink to their knees" to ask Turkey to join the EU, the Turkish media reported on Thursday. "But if there's one thing I know for sure," he added, "it's that they will certainly give in."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is less likely to be impressed with the statements of Oettinger, a member of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Relations with Ankara have been strained ahead of a planned two-day visit to Turkey starting Sunday, and his words won't make things easier for her to justify foot-draggin when it comes to strengthening Turkey ties to the EU.

The Turks will probably confront Merkel with Oettinger's statement to increase pressure on Germany. Bagis said Thursday that he hoped it would have an effect on the EU's policy. Negotiations for the country's accession to the 27-member bloc have been stalled for more than two years. Since beginning efforts toward joining in 2005, Turkey has fulfilled just one of the 34 chapters of the acquis communautaire required for entry, which focused on science and research.

France Urges New Chapter

But some movement has recently been seen elsewhere. France -- which, along with Germany, hindered the Turkish accession process under former President Nicolas Sarkozy -- signaled two weeks ago that it could lift the blockade. In a gesture of goodwill, the new government under Socialist President François Hollande is ready to open another chapter of the process. Turkish EU Affairs Minister Bagis traveled to Paris on Thursday to meet with Bernard Cazeneuve, his French counterpart, to discuss the next steps.

The attempt at reconciliation came after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned during a visit to Prague in early February -- just as he had in the fall of 2012 in Berlin -- that his patience was wearing thin with the EU. "After 50 years at the gates of the EU, the European community should now finally decide," he said. As an alternative, the prime minister suggested that his country might also join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes developing Asian nations, in addition to Russia and China. "The economic powers of the world are shifting from west to east, and Turkey is one of these growth economies," Erdogan said.

This scenario may have motivated Oettinger's remark, and it is one that Merkel will grapple with when she heads to Ankara for political talks on Monday after visiting German troops stationed along Turkey's border with Syria. That doesn't mean that Turkish officials expect an about-face from the chancellor, particularly because it's an election year. "But we hope that France coordinated with the Germans," says a source within the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Delicate Questions

In Ankara's view, the litmus test for Berlin's attitude toward the country is the question of how EU visas for Turkish citizens are handled. "It is shameful the way Turkey, as an accession candidate, is treated by the EU on the visa question," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently complained. "It's incomprehensible for our people."

For years, Turkey has called for visa restrictions to be eased for its citizens traveling to countries within the EU's Schengen Zone. During her visits to Turkey, Merkel has also repeatedly been told that even Turkish businesspeople who want to invest in Germany have trouble getting a visa. But little has been done to change this.

Now, Ankara has received a proposal from the European Commission urging Turkey to sign an accord requiring it to take back illegal immigrants that cross its borders into Greece. In exchange, talks about getting rid of the EU visa requirement for Turks would be resumed.

The Turkish government has delayed signing because it wants a guarantee that a gradual lifting of the visa requirement is actually planned. After German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich categorically rejected lifting the visa requirement for Germany during a visit to Turkey 10 days ago, the Turks are anxiously awaiting anything Merkel might have to say on the matter.

There is yet another issue that will be on officials' minds in Ankara, where they will have certainly registered that the debate over dual citizenship has once again flared up in Germany, which is home to a large Turkish diaspora of some 3 million. In an open letter to both Erdogan and Merkel, the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD) called for current barriers to dual citizenship to be lifted. It's a request that is likely to be well-received by the Turkish prime minister.

-- with wire reports

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1. Wrong approach
powermeerkat 02/21/2013
Turkey would be much better of as a hub of confederation of oil/gas rich Turkic states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.) than as a member of collapsing EU.
2. Discrimination
poliman 02/22/2013
1- dual citizenship: an ethnic German citizen by birth is able to claim dual citizenship of Germany and the USA, yet, a Turkish citizen who gets German citizenship by birth is not.....where in the world such discrimination is tolerated by a Western Democracy? 2- immigration and visa: according to German statistics, there is a net reverse migration from Germany to turkey in last 5 years. So German fear of masses of Turks coming to Germany to work in vegetable stands is absurd. It is difficult to get a job for Germans, how the heck a Turks who comes to Germany with a tourist visa with limited German will take jobs from Germans? 3- we now know that a closely integrated Christian EU is not a reality but a failure. EUs future depends on economic success, not political or religious harmony..Turkey has the fastest growing economy and health balance of budget. It is promised the membership in 2005. All these anti-turkish sentiments by Germans and French are really costing prestige and credibility to EUs stand in the world. Benefits of admitting Turkey into the Union is greater than Not to. So what thick is the problem? Racism ???
3. Turkey or Turkeys?
stevej8 02/26/2013
The sentiment expressed by Mr. Oettinger is a very curious one, that might have made some sense at the peak of ottoman power, in another sense at least, but is now simply absurd. If Turkey were to join the EU, it would soon become the biggest single member nation by population, despite being territorially mostly in Asia, and of a different history and culture (including main religion) from Europe. Furthermore there would then be no in-principle obstacle to admitting various other nations in Africa, the Caucasus, Middle East, Central Asia etc. And how then could Russia be kept out? In short it would be the end of a coherent Europe forever, and the EU would instead be an overstretched agglomeration of nations with practically nothing in common that distinguishes them from the rest of the world generally, in which the old core members such as France and Germany would have little real say or guiding power, and no coherent policy would be possible at all on many matters. Some current members may also find it too much to stomach, in the future if not immediately, and opt for exit as a result, it being no longer possible to exclude the biggest member once in. If certain polticians want to bring a final end to Europe as Europe, they can do no better than to expedite the entry of Turkey into the EU, with all the consequences it clearly entails (including major demographic ones). That the President of France should be among them is a considerable irony to say the least, given he leads a nation that has thus far rightfully considered itself one of the twin pillars of Europe, a status sure to end once Turkey becomes the biggest member nation, let alone Russia, or other possible candidates. The talk of Turkey entering the EU should be decisively ended before it is too late, and Turkey itself can then chart its own natural course as an Asian-Middle Eastern nation, with some links to Europe, perhaps in association with other Turkic nations further east. The alternative is a form of identity and political suicide for Europe, whose natural and necessary borders end where Turkey and other essentially non-European nations begin. This is particularly extraordinary at a time when it has been clearly shown Europe is already stretched to the limit essentially at its current scale, in various critical senses. It is the height of unrealism to talk now of Turkish entry into the EU, and indeed many Turks are themselves sceptical, with good reason. It is time to return to reality, while it is still possible.
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