Merkel launches busy trip at site of Patriots
KAHRAMANMARAŞ / ANKARA
Accompanied by Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chancellor Merkel (C) visits German soldiers in Kahramanmaraş. AA photo
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived today in Turkey with a hectic agenda for talks with Turkish officials that will include discussions on the Syrian crisis, EU accession talks, the anti-terror fight and commercial ties.
Merkel met with German soldiers deployed to operate Patriot missile defense systems in the southern province of Kahramanmaraş, where 300 German soldiers have been deployed along with two units of Patriot defense systems, a day after the defense ministers of Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands visited the systems in Adana and Kahramanmaraş. Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz accompanied Merkel during her visit to the German Patriot units.
After leaving Kahramanmaraş, the chancellor proceeded to the Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir for a touristic visit. She was welcomed at Nevşehir’s Cappadocia airport by Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik.
Merkel will tour Göreme National Park in Nevşehir and travel to Ankara to start the official leg of her trip, during which she will meet President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. She will also pay her respects to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with a visit to his mausoleum, Anıtkabir.
Among the issues to be discussed between Erdoğan and Merkel are recent developments in Syria and other regional issues, all dimensions of bilateral ties, Turkey’s EU process, as well as Turkey’s efforts to renew its Constitution and solve the Kurdish question.
Before her visit, Merkel said Feb. 23 that she favored new talks to revive Turkey’s stalled EU membership bid. Yet Merkel, who favors a “privileged partnership” for Turkey in place of full EU membership, stressed the outcome of Ankara’s talks with Brussels should be open, and she remained skeptical about whether Turkey should join.
Turkey has complained about Berlin’s lack of support for its EU hopes and has accused the EU of double standards in conducting negotiations without full membership in mind. French President François Hollande said last week he was ready to unblock talks on the “chapter” or policy area dealing with help for EU regions.
“I think a long negotiating path lies ahead of us. Although I am skeptical, I agreed with the continuation of membership discussions. We are engaging in these with an open result,” Merkel said. “In recent times, negotiations stalled somewhat and I am in favor of opening a new chapter in order to move forward.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, from Merkel’s Free Democrat (FDP) coalition partner, called the standstill unsatisfactory in December 2012 and urged renewed vigor in talks. Even some within Merkel’s own Christian Democrat Union (CDU) back greater support for Turkey, risking the chancellor becoming more isolated in advocating “privileged partnership.”
EU Energy Commissioner Günther Öttinger, a CDU member, told daily Bild last week that “I’d like to bet that within the next decade, a German chancellor along with their colleagues from France will go begging on their knees to Ankara, saying, ‘Friends, come to us.’”
“It is clear to most people in my party that the idea of ‘privileged partnership’ is defunct,” Ruprecht Polenz, head of the CDU’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told daily Berliner Zeitung on Feb. 23.
Instead, people should accept that negotiations will ultimately lead to membership.
Merkel will also hold talks with German and Turkish business representatives and take part in a German-Turkish economic forum in Ankara. The high-level business delegation accompanying the chancellor and her participation in the Turkish-German business forum indicates that the main topic of the discussions will be corporate-related, including the recent anger of the Turkish government to German carmaker Volkswagen.
Another corporate issue likely to be discussed by the leaders might be the possibility of a partnership between national flag carrier Turkish Airlines and German air carrier Lufthansa, which was first mentioned by Merkel.
Merkel had suggested the establishment of joint administration of the two carriers during Erdoğan’s visit to Germany in November 2012, drawing approval from the prime minister.