Merkel Holds Out Turkey EU Prospect While Reiterating Skepticism

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Turkey’s talks on joining the European Union can move ahead if the next phase focuses on civil liberties and ensuring an independent judicial system.

Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Berlin today, Merkel said she could “very well imagine” opening the next two chapters of Turkey’s EU accession talks as soon as possible. At the same time, she upbraided Erdogan for cracking down on demonstrators.

“Every country must take the path toward democracy according to its own inner strength,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin alongside Erdogan, who was on a visit to Berlin that included a speech to a foreign-policy group.

Turkey’s effort to join the EU, begun in October 2005, is bogged down amid European criticism over Erdogan’s treatment of protesters in Istanbul last summer and his shakeup of the judiciary in response to a corruption investigation. Like Merkel, French President Francois Hollande said on a visit to Istanbul last week that his country is ready to open new chapters in Turkey’s EU membership talks.

“It’s no secret -- and my position hasn’t changed much here -- that I view full membership for Turkey skeptically, but that shouldn’t distract us at this time,” Merkel said at the joint news conference. She reiterated her stance that the outcome of Turkey’s EU membership bid is open-ended.

Erdogan sought Merkel’s support in unlocking talks on justice and civil rights, which he said were blocked by Cyprus.

Turkish Leader

“I think we can get there -- we’ve talked to France and other countries, and we would particularly like to have the chancellor’s support on this,” Erdogan said.

Turkey has begun talks in 14 of 35 EU policy areas and completed only one. Merkel said she was open to tackling two more areas that would require Turkey to strengthen safeguards for civil liberties and ensure an impartial criminal justice system. The process was on hold for three years until resuming in November.

Turkey’s central bank more than doubled interest rates last month to stem capital outflows as market turmoil linked to the corruption probe sent the lira plummeting.

Erdogan reiterated he is against increases in interest rates, though he underscored the central bank’s independence. Still, he signaled that his government would take action.

“I have no power to intervene because the central bank is independent,” Erdogan said in Berlin. “But after this certain temporary process, as the government, we’ll start to implement our plan B and plan C, before or after the elections.”

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