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Angela Merkel’s ‘Privileged Provocation’ in Turkey 30 mars 2010

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Spiegel Online (Germany) 03/30/2010

By Ralf Beste and Daniel Steinvorth in Ankara and Daryl Lindsey in Berlin

Chancellor Merkel’s meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan in Ankara on Monday was anything but harmonious. Merkel may have attempted to smile the troubles away, but the rift between Germany and EU-candidate Turkey is growing. Commentators say Germany must finally provide an honest answer to Ankara: Yes or no.

Travel can be an educational experience — a fact that wasn’t lost on Angela Merkel on Monday.

« I now understand that the term ‘privileged partnership’ doesn’t have a good connotation in Turkey, » the German chancellor said on Monday afternoon, during a visit to Ankara. This alternative to full European Union membership may be the preference of Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, but the people of Turkey sure don’t like it.

Standing side-by-side with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Merkel reiterated her government’s position that accession negotiations should be an « open-ended process. » She offered a friendly smile as she said it. One could have interpreted it as a concession to her Turkish hosts, but the rest of her comments seemed a lot less accommodating.

For EU negotiations with Ankara to continue, she added, Turkey must first open its ports, as agreed, to the EU member state Cyprus. Merkel didn’t even bother to name the other negotiating hurdles because, for the time being, her party has refused to negotiate with Turkey over 7 of the 35 chapters necessary for membership — regardless how compliant the country is on the issue of Cyprus.

No Real Concessions

They may have showed a smile here or a bit of amiability there, but in truth there is little agreement right now between Merkel and Erdogan. It was clear on Monday that both leaders appeared keen to put the war of words of recent days behind them, but neither was ready for any real concessions.

Merkel addressed the fact that she had been skeptical of Erdogan’s demand that more Turkish-language college prep high schools be opened in Germany. She said that she was in no way demanding the « assimilation » of Germany’s Turkish minority, but she also added, pointedly, that that cannot be used as an excuse « for Turks not to learn to speak German. » Of course, it’s a moot point, since most Turkish students who would qualify for the advanced placement, university prep high schools probably wouldn’t be the one’s to refuse to learn German.

On the issue of Iran, there was also distance between the two. Merkel promoted further sanctions. « I would be pleased if the Americans and Europeans could one day agree to sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, » she said. Erdogan, whose country is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council, said he opposed the move. « Sanctions aren’t the right answer, » he said.

The one true success in the meeting was that there was no further escalation of the public attacks of recent days.

Rejection and Incomprehension

If Turkey had a list of its least favorite foreign leaders right now, Merkel would surely be placed in one of the top slots. Her model envisioning a privileged parntership for Turkey with the EU has long been deeply unpopular and is viewed by Turks as a euphemism for the rejection of their future membership.

The fact that the chancellor wanted to use her visit to Ankara yet again as an opportunity to promote this model as an alternative to full membership was met with rejection and incomprehension. « A term like that doesn’t appear in a single European treaty, » Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s minister for European Affairs and the country’s chief accession negotiator, told SPIEGEL. Indeed, Turkey has a single goal — that of full membership and nothing else. In a recent interview with SPIEGEL, he described the phrase « privileged partnership » as « horrible, insulting. »

And in an open letter to Merkel, Turkish law professor Harum Gümrükcü of Istanbul’s Akdeniz University even accused the Germans of breach of agreement. « They must follow the principles of Europe or they will endanger the future of the EU, » he told the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet. But a spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry offered less heated words.

« What Ms. Merkel thinks about Turkish EU membership is nothing new to us, » Burak Özügergin said. « But our position is just as clear and known. » He said his government expects Germany to respect previous agreements, adding: « Continuity is Europe’s most-important principle. »

Merkel may have said she has learned a thing or two about the issue of a « privileged partnership, » but she did not say in Monday that she would avoid the term in the future.

On the contrary, Merkel issued a statement in Ankara that might anger her Turkish hosts even more. Merkel doesn’t believe that Germany today should be held to agreements reached during the leadership of former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Merkel said that when Germany promised membership to Turkey in the 1960s, it was a far more casual European Community. Today the EU has a « much greater intensity » than it did back then. She added that current ties between Europe and Turkey far surpass what was discussed at the time.

The message: the promise was filled long ago and there is no longer one to keep.

Spiegel Online isn’t the only publication with critical words about the trip. German newspaper editorialists also express concern about the tone of Merkel’s visit, arguing that Germany must offer Turkey the honest prospect of eventual EU membership.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

« The two should meet more often. Merkel last visited Turkey in 2006 — a disinterest that could easily be interpreted by the Turkish side as meaning the German chancellor has no regard for them. When people don’t talk directly to each other, they have a tendency to talk about each other. And when they do, that talk is usually directed at a domestic audience. The dispute over Turkish schools in Germany was the best example of how easy it is for such salvoes to spin out of control. The potential to stir people up is huge, and the atmosphere can quickly get poisoned. And in Germany, especially — with its 3 million residents of Turkish descent — much is at stake. »

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

« Merkel deftly steered clear of the term ‘privileged partnership’ by describing the negotiations as an ‘open-ended process’ and by certifying that the relationship between Turkey and Germany is so close today that it would have been sufficient for European Community membership in the 1960s. That was more than Turkey could have hoped for. But that was also the minimum that Germany should be offering. »

« For Europe, it is dangerous to signal to the Turks that they aren’t desired as part of the club. The more arrogant Europeans are towards Turkey, the more alienated the country will feel from its western neighbors. The Europeans can’t afford that. The prospect of losing Turkey as a strategic partner is no longer just a theoretical possibility. In terms of economic growth, Turkey is on track to outpace Europe, and the percentage of the population that expect EU membership for Turkey and consider it to be important is shrinking. Meanwhile, Turkish leader Erdogan is currently maintaining good relations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while moving in a more confrontational direction against Israel. »

« Turkey maintains its role as the intermediary between the Orient and the Occident, and it still demonstrates that a country can be Islamic and at the same time democratic and pluralistic. In order to preserve this, the Europeans must finally recognize Turkey’s claim to this role. That doesn’t mean Turkey should be admitted into the EU tomorrow … but it needs to be given a signal from countries like Germany that its prospects for membership are indeed serious. »

The Berlin-based Der Tagesspiegel writes:

« The EU says that the accession process must be a totally open one, but on the German side, it has not been. The Christian Democrats under Merkel’s leadership are pursuing less, namely a ‘privileged partnership,’ while Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s Free Democrat Party want membership for Turkey. As long as this indecisiveness continues, the Turks will feel they are being treated like fools. Clarity is needed. At its core, the question is: yes or no. »


1. Turkey [still] asks Germany for help « Erkan's Field Diary - 1 avril 2010

[…] Angela Merkel’s ‘Privileged Provocation’ in Turkey […]

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