German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she supports moving forward with accession talks between Turkey and the European Union, as well as the opening of new chapters; however, she also expressed reservations about Turkey's EU membership bid, reiterating her long-held belief that Turkey must do more if it wants to join the 28-member bloc.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday, Merkel noted that talks between Turkey and the EU were advancing step by step but that Turkey should first solve its domestic issues for further progress. Merkel was referring to two major incidents that have shaken the political landscape in the country -- namely, last year's protests over the proposed demolishment of Gezi Park in İstanbul, and recent corruption allegations which came to light on Dec. 17.
Merkel also spoke about bilateral relations in addition to the various positions of the two respective countries on the issues of EU membership, assimilation and regional policies. The news conference came after a bilateral meeting between the two leaders.
Merkel reiterated her country's position on Turkish membership, noting that she believes the accession negotiations are an "open-ended" process and that she has some reservations about Ankara's full membership of the EU.
“We are also having comments on the debates going on in Turkey. I have stated during the Gezi protests that demonstrating is a fundamental right. Therefore, every country should first solve its internal issues. I still have hesitations over Turkey's full membership. This process is an open-ended one. However, we support the opening of chapters and steps taken in this direction,” said Merkel.
The chancellor also noted that she supports the opening of those sections of Turkey's membership negotiations that address justice and human rights "as soon as possible."
Referring to chapters 23 and 24, which cover issues related to the judiciary, fundamental rights, freedom and security and were blocked unilaterally by Greek Cypriots in 2009, Erdoğan said that Turkey needs Merkel's support for the opening of these two chapters.
After signing the readmission agreement with the EU in mid-December of last year, Erdoğan said that Turkey expects Germany to continue to take productive steps to support Turkey's visa exemption process.
On Dec. 16, Turkey and the EU signed an agreement on visa liberalization dialogue in parallel with a readmission agreement which would result in the return to Turkey of illegal immigrants who enter Europe via Turkey. Turkey initialed the readmission agreement in 2011, but held off signing it until the EU started talks on visa liberalization.
Merkel also stated that the judicial system in Turkey was mentioned during the meeting: “Our justice ministers had a meeting regarding the independence of the judiciary, including the selection criteria of judges and prosecutors. We also talked about the reforms made in the field of law. We want the reforms in Turkey to be implemented successfully.”
The Turkish government's response to a graft investigation that went public on Dec. 17, in which businessmen close to the government and the sons of three ministers were detained, has alarmed EU officials, who have criticized a series of recent government measures in response as an outright intervention in the judiciary's handling of the corruption case.
Erdoğan arrived in Berlin on Tuesday in order to boost ties with Merkel, who was re-elected for a third term in September 2013. Erdoğan also invited Merkel to visit Turkey. The German chancellor is expected to visit Turkey at the end of April this year.
Erdoğan: We reject policies of assimilation
Both leaders also discussed the issue of the Turkish community in Germany, with Erdoğan assuring the German leader that Ankara has no policy of telling Turks not to integrate into mainstream German society.
Erdoğan has rejected policies of assimilation; in his speech in Dusseldorf in 2011, he said that Turks in Germany should learn Turkish before German and resist assimilation to hit back at Germany.
Merkel also commented on the integration issue saying: “I am everybody's chancellor in Germany and this includes the Turkish minority living here. The German government is not against dual citizenship for Turkish people living in Germany.” Germany is a home to roughly 3 million people of Turkish heritage, half of whom are German citizens. Merkel noted that Germany has no aim of assimilating foreign communities, noting that different cultures enriched her country.
Germany to support Turks in Germany voting in Turkish elections
Erdoğan's visit to Germany is also considered by some as a strategic move ahead of the presidential elections in Turkey with the prime minister scheduled to address potential voters on Tuesday night in Berlin. Turks in Germany will be able to cast ballots from abroad for the first time after Turkey changed its electoral law in 2012.
Municipal elections will be held in March, followed by a direct presidential vote -- the first since the constitution was changed in 2007 -- with parliamentary elections in June 2015. Erdoğan stated that Turks will be able to vote from seven separate locations in Germany.
Merkel also noted that during her meeting with Erdoğan, she mentioned her support of the right of Turks living in Germany to be able to cast votes in Turkish elections.
Syria, fight against terrorism topics on table
Both leaders said that the fight against terrorism and regional and internal issues, including the Syrian conflict, were discussed during their meeting.
Erdoğan stated that the body most responsible for the three-year-old Syrian crisis is the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), but lamented its failure to take the necessary steps in Syria to stop the conflict.
The Turkish prime minister noted that there was a deadlock in the UNSC due to its members' opposition to acting over the Syrian conflict, adding unless reform takes place within the UNSC, the Syrian conflict would not be solved.
For her part, Merkel professed agreement with Erdoğan over reform of the UNSC.