Ex-chancellor Schmidt backs Merkel on Turkey

14th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

14 September 2005, BERLIN - Conservative candidate Angela Merkel won surprise backing Wednesday from a heavyweight among German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's own Social Democrats for her strict "no" to Turkish European Union membership.

14 September 2005

BERLIN - Conservative candidate Angela Merkel won surprise backing Wednesday from a heavyweight among German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's own Social Democrats for her strict "no" to Turkish European Union membership.

Former Social Democratic (SPD) chancellor Helmut Schmidt said in an interview he also rejected Turkey's proposed entry to the 25- nation European Union (E.U.) and went out of his way to praise Merkel.

"I have absolutely the same opinion on this as Frau Merkel," said Schmidt in comments to the newspaper Die Zeit, adding: "Economic cooperation, 'yes', customs union, 'yes', free-trade zone, 'yes', but no freedom of movement for the surplus population developing in Turkey."

Merkel, at a Berlin press conference, again underlined her opposition to Turkish E.U. membership and vowed that if she wins Sunday's national election an initiative to block Ankara's bid would be a top priority.

"We want a privileged partnership ... not full membership," said Merkel. Turkish leaders are angry over the privileged partnership concept which they view as a second-class membership.

Merkel's tough stance on Turkey contrasts with Chancellor Schroeder who firmly backs Turkish E.U. membership on geopolitical, economic and strategic grounds, provided Ankara fulfils standards set by Brussels including improving human rights. Formal negotiations between Turkey and the E.U. are set to begin October 3.

Meanwhile, Germany's large immigrant Turkish community was drawn to the centre of an increasingly heated election campaign with all polls predicting a tight race.

The tabloid Bild splashed a picture of Schroeder against a large Turkish flag, over the banner headline: "Will the Turks decide the election?"

The daily, which generally backs Christian Democratic challenger Merkel, gave extensive coverage to Schroeder's visit Tuesday to the German headquarters of Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

"Here is Schroeder fighting for 600,000 votes," the populist newspaper said. Schroeder visited Hurriyet at Walldorf near Frankfurt to mark its 40th anniversary.

The Turkish vote, which forms around 1 per cent of the 62 million electorate, could be a decisive factor in the elections.

Voters of Turkish origin have usually backed Schroeder's SPD or its Greens coalition partners, and Bild put support for the governing coalition at 86 per cent of the Turkish vote, based on the polls.

During the visit Schroeder spoke out against using Turkey's E.U. entry bid for election purposes and warned against a possible "cultural conflict".

There are around 2.5 million people of Turkish origin resident in Germany, in a total population of 82 million.

Germany's top six polls show Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) with the Free Democrats (FDP) at an average of 48.3 per cent - just short of a parliamentary majority.

Schroeder's Social Democratic-Greens government is at 40.9 per cent.

Up to 30 per cent of voters still say they are undecided.

If Merkel fails to win a centre-right majority on Sunday most analysts predict she will seek to set up a grand coalition with Schroeder's SPD as junior partner.

DPA

Subject: German news

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