Merkel says EU-Turkey talks are 'open-ended'
By Honor Mahony
Chancellor Angela Merkel made a symbolic concession on language concerning Turkey's EU membership prospects during a visit to Ankara on Monday (29 March) but tensions remain between the German leader and her Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Speaking to the press following their talks, Ms Merkel said she now understood that the term "privileged partnership does not have a good connotation in Turkey."
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Both Berlin and Paris have peddled the term as an alternative to Turkey's full membership of the EU, something which they vigorously oppose.
Turkey rejects the idea saying it opened accession negotiations in late 2005 on the understanding that it would one day join the Union.
But Ms Merkel did not soften her general message that Turkey's EU prospects are not guaranteed.
"The (accession) negotiations are an open-ended process. We should now pursue this open-ended process," she said, according to AFP.
She also urged Turkey to fulfill a customs agreement with the EU by opening its airports and harbours to traffic from Cyprus, an EU member state Ankara does not recognise.
"The most important issue is the implementation of the protocol ... We have to deal with the Cyprus issue. That would be to the benefit of us all," she said.
Turkey's refusal to implement the customs agreement with Cyprus has resulted in eight of the 35 negotiating chapters that have to be negotiated for EU membership to be frozen. So far, Turkey has open 12 chapters since 2005 and only closed one.
By contrast, Croatia, which started the process at the same time, hopes to become a member of the EU next year.
On another contentious issue, concerning the alleged question of integration of Germany's large Turkish community into German society, the two leaders struck a more conciliatory tone.
Ahead of the meeting Ms Merkel had rejected Mr Erdogan's calls for Turkish language secondary schools. But in Ankara she indicated that such schools could indeed be opened, although she noted that this should not be an "excuse" not to learn German.
"If Germany has German schools in other countries, for example in Turkey, ... then of course Turkey could also have schools in Germany," she said, according to Stern magazine.
With Germany host to around 3 million Turkish nationals, a large number of whom still live in closed communities, integration and what it means to be part of German society have become hot political issues.
Meanwhile, relations between the two sides is also grounded in the fact that they have strong economic ties. Turkey is one of Germany's most important export markets.