Erdoğan calls on Europe to step up cooperation against PKK terrorism
Prime Minister Erdoğan and German Chancellor Merkel held a joint news conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday. (Photo: AA)
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, urged Western countries to stand more firmly against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a call Merkel responded to with a promise for better cooperation with Turkey.
“There should not be a terrorist organization backed by the West,” Erdoğan said at a joint news conference. He lamented that many Western countries do not extradite people wanted in Turkey on terrorism charges despite extradition agreements they have with Turkey even though his government frequently approves the extradition of criminals to these countries, including Germany and France, under the same agreements. “We expect the extradition of such criminals,” he said.
However, he said he has received assurances from Merkel that Germany will increase its support for Turkey's efforts to combat the PKK, adding that the relevant ministries of the two countries have been given instructions to work on joint steps. Merkel, for her part, said Germany is ready to support Turkey in its anti-terrorism efforts.
Erdoğan has repeatedly complained about European reluctance to better cooperate with Turkey in its efforts to combat the PKK. Before his visit to Germany, Erdoğan said on Tuesday that Germany is of key importance to PKK activities in Europe, noting that several PKK offshoots operate in Germany under different names and raise funds for the terrorist group.
Erdoğan's visit to Germany came amid a stalemate in Turkey's EU membership process. Erdoğan thanked Merkel for her support in the opening of accession talks with Turkey during her country's term as EU president and appeared to blame France, rather than Germany, for the stalemate in the talks. “Germany, under both Christian Democrat and Social Democrat governments, has always supported Turkey,” he said, complaining, however, that the French administration after former President Jacques Chirac took up “a very negative attitude” towards Turkey.
In remarks late on Tuesday, Erdoğan indirectly criticized Merkel for the exclusion of Turkey from EU summits in recent years. He said Turkish leaders used to be invited to EU summits even before Turkey began its accession talks, when Gerhard Schroeder and Chirac were the leaders of Germany and France.
“After Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Chirac left, they did not invite us to EU summits. Now we are a negotiating country but we do not attend EU summits. Can there be such an ideological stance?” he asked during a speech at the Nicolas Berggruen Institute.
Merkel says Germany remains committed to Turkey's membership but says the process should be “open-ended,” meaning that it cannot be guaranteed that the process will result in full membership.
"The EU is an honest negotiating partner." Merkel said.
"These negotiations will continue irrespective of the questions that we have to clarify," she said, referring to criticisms of Turkey in the European Commission's report on its performance as a candidate country.
Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Party (CDU) is opposed to Turkey, a mainly Muslim but secular country, joining the European Union and instead favours a 'privileged partnership' that would fall short of full membership.
"The question of full membership for Turkey is seen within my party in a certain way... We (Germany and Turkey) have learned to live with this difference and still to have good relations," she added.
Germany is Turkey's largest trade partner in the 27-nation EU and is also home to some three million Turks, the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, known to have a more favorable view of Turkish accession than Merkel, called for a fresh effort to revive the stalled accession process. Speaking at a ceremony for the opening of Turkey's new embassy in Berlin on Tuesday evening, Westerwelle said it is in the interests of both the EU and Turkey to give the talks a new push in 2013.
Erdoğan also complained about EU policy on the Cyprus problem and said Merkel had told him in the past she also believed it had been a mistake to admit a divided Cyprus. "This was a serious mistake and the mistake continues with increasing effects," Erdoğan added.
Asked about Erdoğan's comments on Merkel's views, a German government source said the chancellor had been referring to the EU's general principle that it should only take in members which have resolved all territorial conflicts with their neighbours.
The Greek Cypriot government, recognized by the EU as representative of the entire island, is currently blocking further progress in Ankara's membership process. Turkey, which does not recognize Greek Cyprus, suspended dialogue with the EU presidency after the rotating post was taken over by the Greek Cypriots in July.
“The EU talks of a state called Cyprus. There is no country called Cyprus. There is the Greek Cypriot administration and there is Turkish Cyprus. There is a green line that divides them. But EU members do not see that green line,” said Erdoğan.
During his speech on Tuesday, Erdoğan said Turkey has not dropped its goal of becoming a member of the European Union despite the current stalemate in the accession process. However, he suggested a deadline for Turkish readiness to pursue EU membership, saying the 17-nation bloc will lose Turkey if it is still keeping Ankara out in 2023.
“We wholeheartedly believe that Turkey and the EU share a common future,” Erdoğan said, noting that Turkey would help the EU increase its influence in the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia and play a more central role in global affairs.
“We continue to prepare ourselves to become a full member in the EU of the future. I believe that the EU will become stronger when Turkey joins as a full member,” said Erdoğan.
His remarks came as a response to mounting concerns over lack of enthusiasm on the part of his government to pursue the membership goal. These concerns grew further when the prime minister failed to make any mention of EU membership in a major speech outlining his party's political vision for 2023, the year which marks the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
Responding to a question after his speech regarding whether Turkey would be an EU member by 2023, Erdoğan answered: "They probably won't keep us waiting that long. But if they do, then the EU will lose out, and at the very least they will lose Turkey." Turkey, which has aspired to be a part of Europe since the 1960s, has been a candidate since 1999 and has been negotiating with the union for membership since 2005. However, the talks have virtually ground to a halt in recent years due to opposition from some EU members and the failure to find a solution to the dispute over the divided island of Cyprus.
Turkish-German strategic council
At the joint news conference, both Merkel and Erdoğan expressed commitment to improving bilateral ties by announcing plans to create a Turkish-German strategic council, opening a German university in Turkey and opening a Turkish one in Germany, as well as for a visit by Merkel to Turkey in February. The Turkish and German foreign ministers will meet in November to start work on the proposed strategic council, Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan, who opened the new building of the Turkish Embassy in Berlin, said the compound --Turkey's largest diplomatic mission building abroad -- capped centuries-old Turkish-German ties. He said bilateral trade, which has decreased in the first seven months of this year compared to 2011, should be kept stable.
Merkel praised Turkey's economic achievements and said she wished a similar progress had been achieved in the eurozone countries as well.
Erdoğan also called on the German government to allow the country's Turks to have dual citizenship. Only 700,000 of Germany's Turks have German citizenship while the remaining 2.3 million are reluctant to assume German nationality because it will mean losing their Turkish citizenship.
On Tuesday, he called on Germany's Turks to integrate more into German society, learning the language and the culture. “As soon as you decide to be here in Germany permanently, to settle down, buy a house or open a business, you become a part of this country. You must have no problem at all with integration,” Erdoğan said. He highlighted German national football team player Mesut Özil as an example of success and advised the Turks in Germany to study leading German thinkers as much as they do Turkish and Ottoman ones.
“You and your children should read and understand [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel, [Immanuel] Kant and [Johann Wolfgang von] Goethe the same way you read and understand Fuzuli, Mehmet Akif [Ersoy], Necip Fazıl [Kısakürek] and Yahya Kemal [Beyatlı],” he said. “Learning two cultures at the same time is not a burden; on the contrary, it is a valuable asset.”
Erdoğan angered German authorities when he said during a past visit that the Turks of Germany should work for integration but reject “assimilation.”
‘Have three kids or we'll end up like Germany'
The prime minister also praised the benefits of having a big and dynamic population and repeated his highly publicized call on Turkish families to have at least three children.
“I have been saying in my country that families should have at least three children because otherwise, we will end up where Germany is now by 2037. I don't want to end up where Germany is today. I want our population to remain young,” he said.
Erdoğan also said Merkel would visit Turkey next year.
Turkey has completed only one of 35 policy 'chapters' every accession candidate must conclude to join the EU.
All but 13 policy chapters in Ankara's negotiations are blocked because of the Cyprus issue and the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, says Turkey does not yet meet required standards on human rights and freedom of speech.
Turkey's European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış told a seminar in Berlin earlier on Wednesday that the situation of human rights and religious and political freedoms had greatly improved since Erdoğan's AK Party took power 10 years ago.
Bağış cited Kurdish language broadcasts and the restitution of property to religious minorities as examples of what he called "a much more democratic, transparent" Turkey, adding that Ankara could not accept a "privileged partnership" with the EU.