Conservatives dividedover Turkey in EU
15 October 2004
BERLIN – A split in Germany’s conservative opposition worsened Friday with one party dropping plans for a mass petition aimed at keeping Turkey out of the European Union but its Bavarian sister party keeping the option open.
The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) confirmed it was reversing its position and scrapping the controversial petition plan amid fears it would fuel racism aimed at Germany’s 2.5 million resident Turks.
But arch-conservative Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, who heads the CDU’s Bavarian wing, the Christian Social Union (CSU), would only say that an anti-Turkey signature campaign “is not an issue for the present”.
“The question is not whether the citizens should take part (in this decision) – but how,” said Stoiber in remarks to Deutsche Presse-Agentur. He predicted Turkey’s bid to join the European Union would be a top issue in Germany’s 2006 general election.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Turkish leaders welcomed the CDU’s decision.
“The minister … views this as a return to political reason,” said Walter Lindner, the chief spokesman for Fischer who earlier warned the petition could help neo-Nazi parties win support.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a Social Democrat (SPD), strongly backs Turkish EU membership.
CDU leader Angela Merkel, who initially backed the anti-Turkey EU petition, announced an abrupt change of direction at a party executive meeting late Thursday evening, Bild newspaper reported.
“I have received a lot of comments and letters which frequently raised the concern that collecting signatures for a petition against Turkish EU membership could be misused,” said Merkel as quoted by Bild. She added: “We have to rule out any misuse. Therefore, the issue is finished for us.”
Merkel made her climbdown after top CDU leaders, such as Volker Ruhe, who served as defence minister under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, warned against populism and expressed support for letting Turkey join the EU.
Hakki Keskin, president of the Turkish Community of Germany, said he was “delighted” by the CDU’s decision to reject the petition.
But the leader of the European Turkish business lobby (ATIAD), Esref Uensal, accused the CDU/CSU of “moral arson” with talk of a petition to keep Turkey out of the Union.
Both Keskin and Uensal underlined that Turkey has been a member of the NATO alliance since 1952 and has been part of the free trade area with the EU since 1995.
Last week, the European Commission recommended the EU begin negotiations on Turkey’s membership. A final decision on starting talks will be made by leaders of the 25 EU member countries at a summit on 17 December in Brussels.
Negotiations are expected to be complex and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan admits it could take until 2019 until his country joins the EU.
Subject: German news