ANKARA (Reuters) - After forming a new coalition with a more pro-Ankara ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is unlikely to try to block the progress of Ankara’s EU bid despite opposing full Turkish membership, Turkish analysts say.
Merkel, who has long favored a ‘privileged partnership’ for predominantly Muslim Turkey that stops short of full EU membership, led her conservative Christian Democrats to win a parliamentary majority on Sunday and has said she will form a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
The liberal FDP is less supportive of Turkey’s EU bid than the defeated left-wing Social Democrats (SPD), but said on Monday that Merkel’s stand was outdated and Turkey should get a chance to meet the bloc’s criteria for membership.
“We are much more open vis a vis Turkish membership in the European Union and now that we negotiate, we should negotiate with the possibility of Turkey joining,” FDP parliamentary foreign policy spokesman Werner Hoyer told Reuters Television.
“I think the wording ‘privileged partnership’ is a little bit outdated nowadays,” he said of Merkel’s preference.
Analysts say Merkel, who formed an influential alliance with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the issue, will likely avoid antagonizing Turkey by blocking a membership that is seen as being decades away, for fear of hurting German-Turkish ties.
“After winning Sunday’s election, Merkel may feel more free to express her well-known position on Turkey’s EU membership, but it remains to be seen if she will go out of her way to block Turkey’s progress as the French have done,” said Turkish analyst Semih Idiz, who frequently writes about foreign affairs.
“There are just too many things at stake for Germany and Turkey, including the 3 million Turks who live in Germany, trade ties and Afghanistan,” said Idiz.
Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, said the business-friendly FDP — which won a record 14.6 percent of the vote and joins the government after 11 years in opposition — will act as a counterweight on the issue of Turkey to Merkel’s more negative CDU.
“The SPD paid a lot of lip service toward Turkey’s EU bid. A center-right government with the FDP in the foreign ministry will be very keen to see Turkey make progress, so we will have a more assertive German policy toward Turkey,” Aktar said.
Merkel and the FDP must hammer out compromises on economic, security and foreign policy, and FDP leader Guido Westerwelle has been tipped as possible foreign minister.
The EU accession drive is an anchor for political and financial reform in Turkey, a country prone to instability, and investors and financial markets are sensitive to any signs that Turkey’s chances of joining the EU may be receding.
Opponents of Turkey’s bid say the Muslim country of 72 million is too poor and culturally different to fit in. Supporters cite the NATO member’s strategic position as an energy hub and its vast market economy as assets for Europe.
Accession talks have moved slowly because of Brussels’ concerns over human rights, complaints about a lack of progress on reforms and a territorial dispute with EU member Cyprus.
Sarkozy and Merkel have been the most prominent opponents of Turkey’s bid, but Huseyin Bagci, professor of international relations at Ankara’s Middle Eastern Technical University, said he expects Merkel now to “hide behind Sarkozy.”
Sarkozy, who has long opposed full membership for Turkey, has blocked five policy areas of negotiation, or chapters, including that of key economic and monetary policy. Germany has not blocked any chapters.
“I think Merkel is intelligent enough not to make this (Turkey’s accession) much of an issue when it was not even a campaign issue, as happens in France,” Bagci said.
Another analyst said Merkel will be content to let Turkey’s troubled EU process lie dormant or edge forward, despite mounting frustration in Turkey at perceived EU double standards.
Other analysts say Germany’s new government faces too many problems at home, ranging from the fate of carmaker Opel and high unemployment to a big budget deficit, to pay much attention to Turkey’s EU aspirations.
“Why risk this, when the decision on whether Turkey actually joins is still years away?” said Jan Techau of the German Council on Foreign Relations.
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson in Berlin)
Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; editing by Tim Pearce