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Turkey

Opinion: Merkel and Erdogan keep their distance

Few expected Angela Merkel and Recep Tayyip Erdogan to become best of friends in Ankara this week – their opinions are just too far apart, says DW’s Baha Güngör.

During her third visit to Turkey since taking office, Chancellor Angela Merkel didn't hold back - and rightly so. Turkey is, after all, lagging behind Europe's expectations when it comes to freedom of speech. Turkey's prime minister is also known for refusing to adhere to political correctness, as the case of Cyprus has demonstrated. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stayed firm on all his positions, including not recognizing the Greek south of the island as a state, or as an EU member.

Güngör, Bahaeddin Multimediadirektion REGIONEN, MSOE - Türkisch DW2_8172. Foto DW/Per Henriksen 11.10.2012

Baha Güngör is the head of the Turkish Department at DW

Erdogan was also right to call on European states to finally take a clear stance on whether they want to support Turkey's EU membership bid. Germany and France's willingness to open yet another chapter in the accession negotiations doesn't suffice. In response, Merkel was open about her skepticism regarding Turkey's entrance to the political union, offering more honesty than usual. She went on to criticize the fact that journalists have been imprisoned in Turkey - an issue Erdogan defended by pointing to the "independence of the judiciary." The prime minister went on to claim that the ones imprisoned are often not journalists, but rather supporters of rebels, terrorists and illegal organizations.

So it seems the friendship between Germany and Turkey will remain limited to the growing bilateral trade volume of well over 30 billion euros ($40 billion) annually, the presence of around 5,000 German companies in Turkey, as well as a number of joint business ventures. That's not enough, however, to guarantee that the long-standing good relationship between the two countries will last.

Religious minorities in Turkey remain a problem. Despite the easing of some restrictions, they are still far from able to practise their faith freely. German foundations, which have been repeatedly attacked by Turkish leaders claiming they are acting against the country's interests, explicitly praised Merkel for her good work in the country.

Merkel's visit offered signals that gestures of good will are unlikely to suffice in ushering in a less tense era between Berlin and Ankara. The economic world operates differently than the political arena. Companies don't have to earn voters' approval and are happy so long as trade is booming and the commissions are rolling in. Businesses can issue calls for Turkish accession to the EU without worrying too much about the consequences. But in politics, the decision lies with the voters.

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