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Erdogan lobbies for EU membership 20 avril 2007

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Der Spiegel (Germany)

April 16, 2007

In the wake of an outspoken interview with SPIEGEL, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan outlines the progress his country is making towards European Union membership and offers conciliatory noises to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But protests in Ankara may overshadow his visit.

On a visit to Germany on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan said Turkey has enormous potential and could help solve the European Union’s problems — rather than being a burden on the elite club.
He was lobbying, as usual, for Turkish EU membership. Speaking at a trade fair in Hanover alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he acknowledged the process could take years. « We will continue traveling on this thin and narrow path with patience, » he said.

Merkel is a visible EU figure this season because Germany holds the Union’s rotating six-month presidency. In the past she’s been against full Turkish membership and in favor of a « privileged partnership » between Europe and the sizeable Muslim nation. « If things progress well, then we anticipate that we will be able to open two new chapters (in negotiations), » she said on Sunday. « We’re looking ahead. »

She also counselled patience. « It has always been said that the overall process will be a long one and the outcome is open, » she said. During her candidacy to become chancellor, Merkel had been free with her opinion about a privileged partnership, but she’s been less frank since joining a coalition government with left-leaning Social Democrats, who under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder supported full membership for Turkey.

The road to Brussels

In Hanover, Erdogan outlined Turkey’s recent progress towards meeting the requirements for EU membership. Reform efforts have made markets more open and liberal, he said, pointing out that these factors that have helped to breathe new life into the European economy.

Erdogan added that Turkey has fulfilled some of the Maastricht criteria for adopting the euro. He said the nation’s budget deficit and inflation have dropped massively. And far from being a cheap-labor pool, Turkey has become known as a manufacturing country where « quality is produced. » Erdogan also said democracy in Turkey had been strengthened, though he didn’t provide specifics. And he described Turkey’s role in global politics as a bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
Despite critical remarks about Germany in recent weeks and in an interview published by SPIEGEL, Erdogan’s tone on Sunday was conciliatory. In the interview he had addressed what some officials in Ankara thought of as a snub — their exclusion from the EU’s 50th anniversary celebrations in Berlin. Erdogan called the omission a « big mistake » and said, « I seriously expected more from Germany. » He also called for a clear timeframe for accession — saying Turkey would be ready for EU membership by 2014 or 2015. « We want a clear date, a road map, a time schedule for negotiations, » he told SPIEGEL.

But on Sunday he told reporters, « We must be patient, » and that Turkish accession talks had been given a « boost » under Germany’s EU presidency.

Mass protest in Ankara

Sunday also saw a mass protest against Erdogan back in Ankara, with at least 300,000 people demonstrating against the prime minister’s possible campaign for the presidency this year.

The pro-secularist demonstrators chanted, « We don’t want an imam as president » and « Turkey is secular and will remain secular. »

Since he became prime minister, Erdogan and his conservative religious party Justice and Development Party (AKP) have repeatedly drawn criticism from the country’s secular community, which has accused him of eroding separation between church and state. Erdogan has tried to lift a Turkish ban on head scarves in schools and public buildings and he’s tried to pass legislation that would make adultery a prosecutable offense — a move he abandoned under heavy EU pressure.

On Thursday, Turkey’s powerful military weighed in on the presidential election, emphasizing that a secularly oriented successor should be found for current President Ahmed Necdet Sezers, whose term ends in May.

Turkey’s president is chosen by parliament, where Erdogan’s AKP holds the majority. So far Erdogan hasn’t said whether he will run, but his party is expected to make an announcement on Wednesday about its future candidate.

Erdogan has repeatedly rejected accusations that his party pursues religious policies.

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