Turkish PM to seek support for EU bid in Berlin

Turkish PM to seek support for EU bid in Berlin

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish PM to seek support for EU bid in Berlin

PM Erdoğan (C) is seen in Brussels in this Jan 21 photo meeting with European Parliament President Schulz (L) and European Commission President Barroso. REUTERS photo

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will travel to Berlin today for the first senior-level visit from Ankara to the German capital after parliamentary elections last year in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a third consecutive term in power.

The Turkish leader aims to boost relations between Germany and Turkey and obtain Berlin’s support to reinvigorate the country’s EU membership process.

Erdoğan will meet with the German leadership, including Merkel, Vice Chancellor and Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier tomorrow.

The Turkish prime minister is also scheduled to deliver a speech at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and gather with the local Turkish community at a meeting to be hosted by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD).

Turkey’s EU accession process is expected to be the main topic of the agenda during the talks between Erdoğan and Merkel, as the latter is expected to discuss “the dynamics of the EU process for the Turkish government,” with her counterpart, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News. Berlin is eager for the opening of new EU membership negotiation chapters with Turkey, on the condition that it adheres to preconditions, such as the implementation of the Ankara Protocol, according to sources.

Turkey has never ratified the protocol, which requires it to have open trading relationships with all EU states, including Greek Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize. Ankara has justified its refusal to open its sea and air ports to Greek Cypriot vessels on the grounds that the EU has failed to keep promises to ease the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots on the long-divided Mediterranean island.
Turkey’s reluctance to implement the Ankara Protocol has led to the EU blocking some chapters, or policy areas, in the accession process.

Syria will be the second top item on the agenda of the meeting, as the two are expected to discuss the Geneva peace talks, sources said, adding that humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees would also be on the agenda.

Rule of law and Gezi

By the end of the year, Ankara wants to open EU negotiation chapter 23 on the judiciary and fundamental rights and chapter 24 on justice, freedom and security, along with chapter 17 on economic and monetary policy, which has less chance of being opened in comparison to the others.

Merkel has long said Turkey should only be granted “privileged partnership” instead of full EU membership, but she expressed support for reviving Turkey’s stalled membership talks during her last visit to the country.

“We want the process to advance despite the fact that I am still skeptical about Turkey’s full membership in the EU,” Merkel said during her visit to Turkey in March 2013.

Although Germany’s strong criticism against Turkey for the police violence against Gezi protesters in June 2013 delayed the opening of a new negotiation chapter last year, Berlin eventually agreed to restart Turkey’s EU accession talks.

Chapter 22 on regional policies was opened in fall 2013, signaling the resumption of negotiations after a three-year hiatus.

However, shortly before Erdoğan landed in Brussels last month, a warning shot came from Germany over recent political turmoil in Turkey triggered by a huge graft probe that was launched on Dec. 17, 2013. The Turkish government’s consecutive purge of the police and judiciary and a controversial bill aimed at reshaping the top judicial body of the country raised concerns in the EU.

Steinmeier cautioned the Turkish government in January, saying the Turkish government’s crackdown on the police and judiciary put EU accession talks at risk.

“Demanding that Turkey returns to the rule of law is not just something that can be done, but it’s something that has to be done,” Steinmeier said Jan. 20 after with meeting with his EU peers in Brussels.

“Today nobody said the perspective of opening new chapters should be taken back, but such a debate will not be avoided if there are no satisfying answers,” he said.

The acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership process is not the sole contentious matter in bilateral relations between the two countries.

Certain tension between Ankara and Berlin still stems from inflammatory comments made by Turkish leaders over Gezi protests last year, in which they blamed “foreign powers” such as Germany’s Lufthansa for allegedly trying to scuttle a third airport in İstanbul.

Germany has also been criticized for failing to crack down on the activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).