“If the question had to be decided today, Turkey would not be ready for membership and the EU would not be ready to absorb it,” Westerwelle told the Bild daily. “But we have a big interest in Turkey turning in Europe’s direction. I want a Turkey that is on Europe’s side. Not just for economic reasons. The country can also provide very constructive help in resolving many conflicts, whether it be Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen or the Middle East.”
Westerwelle’s remarks came ahead of a visit to Turkey. The German minister was due to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Tuesday evening and will have further talks on Wednesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was visiting Ankara on Tuesday, criticized Germany and France for obstructing Turkey’s EU membership aspirations, saying the way Ankara’s progress towards membership is frustrated “makes [him] angry.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, opposes Turkish membership and prefers a “privileged partnership” instead. Westerwelle, leader of the junior coalition partner liberal Free Democrats (FDP), however, has a more positive stance towards Turkish membership and is credited for softening Merkel’s stance.
Speaking to Bild, Westerwelle said membership remains a distant objective for Turkey. “Out of the more than 30 [EU negotiation] chapters, over half are blocked at the moment. Anyone who has the impression that membership is just around the corner is way off the mark,” he said. “In reality it is about not offending the Turks and not creating the impression that we are not interested in them.”
In Turkey, Westerwelle is expected to have talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said the talks with German foreign minister will focus on bilateral relations as well as Turkey’s EU membership process, the dispute over Cyprus and regional issues, apparently a reference to Iran. Westerwelle’s visit, it said, confirms both countries’ willingness to further strengthen their extensive cooperation.
The visit comes as Turkey intensifies its diplomatic efforts to help revive talks between Iran and world powers over its nuclear program. Its vote against Iran sanctions at the UN Security Council and the deterioration in Turkish-Israeli ties following a deadly Israeli raid on an aid ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza caused concerns in some circles in the West that Turkey is moving away from the West. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates blamed Europe for the perceived shift.