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International Relations

Turkish PM Erdogan and German Chancellor Merkel hold 'intensive' talks in Berlin

Turkish Premier Erdogan and Chancellor Merkel have met for bilateral talks. Recent uproar in Turkey was expected to provide the most fodder for the press conference, but the two leaders focused on more neutral territory.

Erdogan in Berlin

At a post-lunch press conference in Berlin, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated the importance of Turkish-German relations.

The two leaders had a "very intensive" and "very focused" discussion about a number of issues considering relations between their countries, as well as regional politics including the ongoing civil war in Turkey's neighbor Syria.

"Turkey and Germany have a great common strategic interest," Merkel said, adding that those interests spanned issues they both were involved in across the globe and that they would continue relying on the "bridge" that connected their cultures to work together.

Maintaining bilateral relations between Turkey and Germany is important for both governments. Not only is Germany Turkey's most important trade partner - in 2012, trade between the two reached a record of 32.1 billion euros ($43.4 billion) - but it is also home to roughly 3 million people of Turkish heritage, half of whom are German citizens.

EU talks 'open-ended'

Prime Minister Erdogan had called on Germany for its continued support in bringing Turkey into the European Union. The comments were delivered during a speech before the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin prior to his meeting with Merkel.

In response to Turkey's EU ascension aspirations, Chancellor Merkel said her government saw current negotiations as an "open-ended process." When pressed further for Berlin's opinion on how long EU negotiations should continue, Merkel stressed that issue was a Turkish one.

"Every country must follow its own path to democracy [relying upon] its inner strength," she said, adding that Germany continued to follow developments and would continue to express its opinion about policies that went against EU principles, as it had with police crackdowns on protesters.

Merkel also repeated Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's calls for two key sections of Turkey's negotiations with the European Union dealing with justice and human rights to be opened as soon as possible.

Turkey has been an EU candidate since 1999. Talks have long been stalled, however, primarily due to European concerns over a territorial dispute with Greece over northern Cyprus. Police crackdowns in the summer further stalled talks, as has the recent graft probe.

Turkish assimilation

For the first time this year, Turkish citizens residing in Germany will be able to vote in Turkey's local elections, which determine how many votes each party receives. Erdogan and Merkel said they had discussed the logistics of the upcoming March vote and would continue working on a few organization points.

However, the topic prompted a question regarding Erdogan's and Merkel's views on the integration of people of Turkish origin in German society. The Turkish prime minister had discouraged assimilation into German society during his last visit, remarks which caused uproar.

The Turkish premier - who appeared to blush - defended his previous opinion, but stressed that he advocated integration of immigrants in German society, meaning their respect of customs. He did not support the loss of Turkish cultural identity through the adoption of a German one, however. Chancellor Merkel echoed his sentiment.

Erdogan was later scheduled to address a group of Turkish-Germans on Tuesday night in Berlin. The event was to be broadcast in Turkey.

Scandal goes untouched

While politicians from across the German spectrum had called on the chancellor to tackle Ankara's most recent scandals, they were paid little attention at the Tuesday press conference.

Over the past year, the European Union and Berlin have expressed concern at the state of democracy in Turkey in the wake of harsh police crackdowns on protesters, as well as its reform of the judiciary, which would allow politicians to appoint judges.

Chancellor Merkel did say that members of the German judiciary would meet with Turkish counterparts for "an exchange." She did not provide further comments regarding a recent graft scandal, which has resulted in a shakeup of Prime Minister Erdogan's cabinet. Top business figures and sons of three cabinet ministers have come under investigation for alleged bribery and illicit money transfers.

The Turkish premier has accused followers of an Islamic movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the probe. He has also permitted the mass dismissal and reassignment of hundreds of Turkish police officers in what critics say is an attempt to derail the investigation.

kms/se (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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