As Turkey is getting more eager to receive a date to start the long delayed accession talks with the EU, debates on Turkey’s EU membership have started to appear on the surface.
The leader of the German Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) Angela Merkel, who was in Ankara to hold talks with Turkish top- state officials, reiterated her call to build a "privileged partnership" instead of giving full membership to Turkey, a claim that was dismissed by the EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Angela Merkel arrived in Ankara on Monday for talks with Erdogan and other top-state officials on Turkey’s European Union bid for a two day visit.
Having giving a brief on Turkey’s reform process, Merkel praised Turkey’s improvements and its determination on the way to the EU and the performance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) within the last one year, saying Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria that is needed to enter the Union. She also said her party favored closer relations with Turkey in a wide range of areas including security, culture and education.
However, Merkel, a staunch opponent to Turkey’s EU entry, reiterated her objection and called for a "privileged partnership" with Turkey instead of granting full EU membership, an offer whose provisions remain highly unclear for Turkey.
She said they don’t want to close the door to Turkey, however recalling that ten new members will access the EU soon and adding: "Amid all these developments, I should say that we don’t support Turkey’s full membership to the EU for now. We want to offer a privileged partnership to Turkey."
Asked what this offer involved, Merkel said, "A privileged partnership may mean intense cooperation in areas of science, education, culture and research or defense and security."
Merkel noted that Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria, however the problem was within the EU, itself.
Many in the EU fear their wealthy bloc, set to admit 10 mostly ex- communist countries in May, will be unable to absorb a country as large and culturally different as Turkey.
Merkel also noted that the EU officials should be open and honest to Turkey on its EU prospects.
Erdogan: Privileged partnership not on our agenda
The remarks by the German main opposition leader caused high disappointment and some concerns about the EU’s credibility in Turkey who is eagerly waiting to receive a date to start the long- delayed accession talks with the EU
On its way to the EU, Turkey has passed a flurry of EU-inspired reforms, including limiting the powers of the military, abolishing the death penalty and granting greater rights to its Kurdish citizens. In addition, it has also been on the eve of a settlement concerning the Cyprus issue which was perceived by EU officials as an obstacle for Turkey’s EU bid, though not a political criteria.
Prime Minister Erdogan conveyed the disappointment for Merkel’s words at a joint press conference with the CDU leader, rebuffing sharply Merkel’s "privileged partnership" offer.
He said: "There is no such thing as a "privileged partnership" on our agenda … It is not even something we are prepared to consider. This is out of question."
"The EU is not a Christian club. The EU is a union of political values, and Turkish membership will prove this."
"Turkey will not be a burden in the EU; it will help to ease the burden," Erdogan added.
Merkel’s visit was especially awaited by Turkey since Germany is the EU’s largest member state and its main paymaster. It is also home to Europe’s biggest Turkish immigrant community.
In addition, Ankara fears that its EU candidacy could be used by the German Christian Democrats in the campaign issue in this summer’s European Parliament election which could have a negative impact on Turkey’s getting a date for accession talks.
"I hope this issue (Turkey’s candidacy) will not be exploited in Germany," said Erdogan.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who is scheduled to arrive in Ankara next week, expresses support for Turkey’s EU bid.
Reaction from Verheugen
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen also dismissed Merkel’s offer for a special status to Turkey.
At a press conference after meeting U.N. Special Envoy to Cyprus Alvaro de Soto yesterday, Verheugen said granting Turkey a special status was out of the question, adding Turkey was the only EU-candidate state in the Customs Union and for this fact, Turkey already had a special status.
Verheugen said Turkey will be given positive signals at the EU’s upcoming summits in March and June, noting Turkey’s recent efforts to solve the Cyprus problem will also be reflected in the results.