Turkish Vote May Throw Schröder Lifeline

Roger Boyes, Times Online (London), Sept. 15

Ayfer Durur is one of the most fashionable hairdressers in Berlin and a natural Christian Democratic voter—an entrepreneur worried about taxes, high labour costs and the sluggish economy.

However, the 38-year-old is going to vote for the Social Democrats—one of 600,000 Turkish Germans who could throw a lifeline to Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor, if the general election on Sunday turns out to be a dead heat, as the latest opinion polls suggest.

“Will the Turks decide the election?” the mass-circulation Bild asked yesterday, a question regarded as provocative, even racist, by immigrants in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. They do, after all, have German citizenship and are not, as one greengrocer put it, “some kind of alien invaders”.

“The Social Democrats have always fought our corner,” Ms Durur said in her salon, which caters for boybands and TV stars, “and Schröder is the only one campaigning for Turkish entry to the European Union.” That issue is the key foreign policy difference between Herr Schröder and Angela Merkel, his conservative rival. Her Christian Democrats have angered Turkey by holding out the prospect of, at best, a “privileged partnership” with the EU.

For Turkish Germans that smacks of second-class treatment and they fear that it would degrade their own growing importance in German society. There are 1.8 million Turks in Germany; almost one third are entitled to vote. That amounts to 1.2 per cent of the electorate—and the election could well be decided on such a slim margin. Indeed, the Chancellor won the 2002 election with a margin of 6,027 votes.

Herr Schröder has thus been casting his net this week for the Turkish Germans, anxious to mobilise every last vote. At the printing works of Hürriyet and Milliyet, the Turkish-language newspapers, he declared to a cheering crowd: “Turkey has fulfilled its entry requirements for the European Union—and I say that not only in the name of the Germans but of all governments in Europe.”

The Social Democrats have traditionally had strong links to the Turkish community. The trade unions made the first attempts to integrate them as they arrived in West German factories in the 1960s. The past seven years of the Social Democrat-Green Government made it easier for the second generation of Turkish immigrants to become full German citizens.

Fewer than 5 per cent of Turkish Germans have considered voting for the Christian Democrats and so Frau Merkel hopes to drum up support from conservative non-Turkish Germans by emphasising Turkey’s unsuitability for full EU membership.

Talks on Turkish entry to the EU are due to start on October 3 so the issue is slipping into almost every election speech.

Bild reprimanded the Chancellor for taking the election campaign into the Turkish community. It said: “If you manipulate the German-Turkish minority for election purposes you are dealing a real blow to the cohabitation of Germans and Turks.”

Ms Durur said: “This is not really about voting. It’s about binding us into society.”

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