Germany is badly split on whether Turkey should join the European Union and the issue appears set to fuel controversy in the run-up to country’s 2006 general election.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder backs Turkish EU membership and has evolved into one of Ankara’s biggest supporters in the 25-nation bloc.
“A democratic Turkey committed to European values would be clear proof that there is no contradiction between Islamic faith and an enlightened, modern society,” said Schroeder last month.
The Social Democratic (SPD) chancellor underlines that making Turkey an EU member will bolster European security and aid the war on terrorism.
Schroeder also points to economic advantages of a more prosperous Turkey, with its population of almost 70 million being a huge market for German exports.
What Schroeder avoids saying—but remains a clear part of his calculation—is the growing clout of naturalised Turks as German voters.
There are about 2.5 million ethnic Turks living in Germany which has a total population of 82 million. Of these up to 700,000 have so far become German nationals, many of them under a liberalised citizenship law passed by the Schroeder government.
With government support for Turkish EU membership and easier citizenship rights, Schroeder is clearly bidding to make his SPD the party of choice for Turkish-Germans.
The contrast between the chancellor and leaders of the opposition Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) on Turkish EU membership could not be greater.
Angela Merkel, the CDU leader who will likely challenge Schroeder in 2006, is already turning up the heat over Turkey’s EU bid, which she flatly rejects.
Merkel demands that Ankara be limited to a status below full membership which she dubs “a privileged partnership”.
At a CDU party congress this month, Merkel linked her rejection of Turkey in the EU to what she termed the failure of efforts to build a multi-cultural society with Turks already living in Germany.
Chancellor Schroeder, she alleged, ignores this problem and is “living a lie” with his support for Turkish EU membership.
Turkey may be geopolitically important, but the problem is that it can never be integrated into the EU, she says. Merkel does not say this is because Turkey is mainly Muslim but the implication is clear.
Edmund Stoiber, the arch-conservative Bavarian premier who heads the CSU Bavarian wing of the CDU, is even more outspoken.
“An out-of-Europe nation like Turkey with its other history and other cultural traditions will not fit into Europe,” said Stoiber.
Underscoring the CDU’s ‘Christian’ prefix, Merkel insists that Germany is based on Judeo-Christian values and that these values must apply to everybody living in the country.
She calls for an end to tolerance for Islamists “preaching hate tirades” and says laws should be loosened to allow their expulsion.
Such views appear to be gaining strength in Germany, especially since the brutal killing of Dutch film director Theo van Gogh by an Islamist extremist.
An ongoing survey of German views toward Muslims and ‘foreigners’—who in Germany are generally taken to be Turks comprising the country’s biggest, most visible minority—shows a growing intolerance.
Almost 60 percent say there are too many foreigners in Germany, according to a poll of 3,000 people by the University of Bielefeld’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence.
In 2002 the number of Germans saying there were too many foreigners was 55 percent, according to the poll.
Some 70 percent of those surveyed say —up from 66 percent in 2003—and one out of every three agrees with the statement: “Due to the many Muslims living here I sometimes feel like a foreigner in my own country.”
Expressing alarm over the study, German parliamentary president Wolfgang Thierse warned the country’s democratic system now had to prove its strength.
The academic in charge of the survey was blunter: “A hatred of mankind is becoming normal,” warned Wilhelm Heitmeyer, as quoted by Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper.