Gül to EU: Give Turkey a chance to finish negotiation process

By Abdulhamid Bilici

President Gül and his German counterpart, Wulff, met on Sunday evening to converse over tea with Turkish residents of Kreuzberg, a district known as Berlin's Turkish Town. Europeans should first of all let Turkey finish its European Union membership process successfully, instead of holding debates over whether Turkey should become a full member or not, Turkey's President Abdullah Gül said on Monday in Berlin, while ruling out formulas such as a “privileged partnership” as an alternative to full membership.

“There are conditions for membership to the EU. One of them is to complete the negotiation process, which includes the candidate country's bringing all its standards to the level of European Union standards. There are chapter headings in this process. Turkey is currently busy carrying out reforms. I think that recent arguments as to whether Turkey should become a full member of the Union are unnecessary. First of all, Turkey should be given the chance to complete its negotiation process,” Gül said at a joint press conference following talks with German counterpart Christian Wulff.

“After Turkey successfully completes the process, the European Council will rule whether Turkey is ready to become a full member. Then, some of the member states can hold a referendum to ask their people. If one of them says Turkey would be a burden to the union, then Turkey cannot be a member of the EU. We will respect it. On the other hand, Turkish people can say that they do not want Turkey to become a member of the union on that day. But it is too early to talk about this. Completion of the EU negotiation process will make Turkey a stronger country with its democracy, legal standards and economy. And it will contribute to the whole of Europe. For the time being, we do not have any intention to give up our strategic orientation,” Gül added.

The Turkish president arrived in Berlin on Sunday evening for a four-day visit in what is the first presidential trip from Turkey to Germany in nine years.

His remarks concerning Turkey's EU bid came a day before his meeting today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is a staunch opponent of Turkey's full EU membership.

“Today, honoring the signatures that we put is a duty for all. Pacta sunt servanda [a principle of international law which means in Latin that agreements must be kept] is a fundamental principle for Europe,” Gül said.

EU countries unanimously agreed to open official accession talks with Turkey in 2005 before German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power. Sarkozy claims Turkey does not belong in Europe, while Merkel promotes a “privileged partnership” that falls short of membership, a formula Ankara categorically rejects. In Berlin in May 2009, Merkel and Sarkozy made a joint statement declaring that they shared a common position regarding Turkey's accession to the EU in that it should be offered a privileged partnership, not full EU membership.

Although having started accession negotiations with the EU in 2005, Turkey has only been able to open talks on 13 out of 35 chapters thus far and talks have been provisionally completed in only one chapter.

Gül's visit to Germany also comes on the 50th anniversary of an agreement that opened the way for mass immigration of Turkish workers, mostly from rural areas, to meet the additional labor demand during the economic restructuring of Germany.

Germany is home to some 2.5 million Turks. Turkish immigrants come frequently under fire for having poorly integrated despite having settled in the country decades ago.

“Speaking fluent German doesn't mean not being able to speak your own language,” Gül said in response to a question on integration of the Turkish community. Suggesting that people can speak another language better if they can speak their first language well, Gül championed multilingualism as a way that can provide better integration.

Gül also complained of strict bureaucratic procedures implemented for Turkish people who want to travel to Germany, saying that Germany's immigration law, which requires a foreigner who wants to bring his or her spouse to Germany to prove the partner has some knowledge of German, is “offending.”

For his part, Wulff denied that Germany is against Turkey's full EU membership. On the contrary, Germany helped easing some problems concerning the process and has been acting in balance, Wulff suggested, without elaborating. He added that the mutual confidence between Turkey and the EU will grow if they cooperate in the Middle East and North Africa.

Ahead of the press conference, Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his Turkish counterpart, Mehmet Şimşek, signed an agreement on the prevention of double taxation.

According to the agreement, Turkish immigrants who return to Turkey after getting retired will not pay taxes to Germany if their annual income is less than 10,000 euros. Germany will apply the least deduction, which is 10 percent, to those who receive more than 10,000 euros as annual retirement income.
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