Row over treatment of immigrants reopens Turkey's rift with Europe

Prime Minister blasts German policy on trip to promote EU bid
Click to follow

The Turkish Prime Minister yesterday issued a stinging rebuke to Germany over its treatment of Turkish immigrants.

In remarks that highlight the resentment that has built up over the European Union 's continued refusal to allow Turkey to join the club, Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted the Berlin government's attempts to integrate its 3.5 million Turkish immigrants, and said policies that encouraged them to renounce their culture and speak German were a "violation of international law".

Mr Erdogan – in Berlin on the first stop of a visit designed to strengthen his country's bid to join the EU – delivered his surprisingly outspoken verdict on Chancellor Angela Merkel's integration drive hours before he was due to address a large gathering of Turkish immigrants in the western city of Düsseldorf last night.

His comments came after a senior member of Ms Merkel's government sparked an acrimonious row by demanding the negotiations over EU membership be halted because of Ankara's failure to permit religious freedom. Mr Erdogan told the Rheinische Post newspaper that Germany's integration policies failed to consider the needs and expectations of its Turkish communities. Addressing the government's campaign to encourage more Turks to speak German, he added: "Any policy which seeks to revoke the language and culture of migrants violates international law."

The Turkish Prime Minister's comments seemed destined to stir up an already heated integration debate in Germany, which culminated last month with a declaration by Ms Merkel that attempts to build a multicultural society had "utterly failed". David Cameron came to almost the same conclusion in speech delivered in Germany in early February.

Fears that Germany has allowed its Muslim communities to develop "parallel societies" have been stoked by a controversial book entitled Germany is Doing Away with Itself by a former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin. The book claims that laissez-faire policies have produced an underclass of Muslim underachievers. The book has been widely dismissed as racist, but it has sold more than a million copies since last October.

Ms Merkel's coalition of conservative Christian Democrats and liberals has publicly advocated policies encouraging Turkish immigrants to speak German ever since. There have also been widespread calls for a tightening of legislation governing the entry of Turkish immigrants who make up the majority of Muslims in Germany.

In an initial response to the Turkish Prime Minister's comments, the government's conservative integration commissioner, Maria Böhmer, said that Mr Erdogan should promote integration rather than criticise it. "It would send a strong signal to our migrants of Turkish origin to tell them to learn German and take advantage of the opportunity to send their children to kindergarten," she insisted.

Mr Erdogan was also unsparing in his criticism of Ms Merkel, who together with the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has strongly opposed Turkey's attempts to gain full EU membership. Both advocate that Ankara should be given "privileged partnership" status instead.

The Turkish Prime Minister accused Ms Merkel of using "stalling tactics" in order to placate German voters who are opposed to Turkey's membership. "Never before have such hurdles been put before an EU accession country," he insisted. "The Turkish people expect Germany to take the lead role in the EU's membership negotiations with Turkey."

Ms Merkel is expected to reiterate the position held by President Sarkozy when she meets Mr Erdogan today. During a visit to Ankara last week, Mr Sarkozy said that he believed Turkey did not belong in Europe and that another form of partnership had to be considered.

Mr Erdogan will tomorrow make his first visit to Brussels since 2009 and is expected to reiterate his calls for full membership. However, the stalemate over Cyprus and scepticism about Turkey's ability to push through key reforms before key June parliamentary election are likely to mean that they will fall on deaf ears.

An insult to chew over

President Nicolas Sarkozy's recent visit to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was supposed to be an opportunity to promote better relations between Ankara and Europe – but instead it has been overshadowed by an escalating political spat over the etiquette of chewing gum.

After Mr Sarkozy was seen chewing gum as he got off his plane in Ankara on Friday, the mayor of the city has revealed that he deliberately decided to chew gum himself when seeing the French president off yesterday, as part of a calculated retaliatory snub.

"He stopped for a moment, looked around and continued to chew. I personally was offended," Melih Gokcek said. He did not specify whether either politician chewed with his mouth open.