BERLIN (Reuters) - For Recep Demir, a businessman from Germany’s large Turkish diaspora, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opposition to Turkey joining the European Union makes perfect sense.
The chancellor, seeking a third term in power in elections in September, is ostensibly appealing to conservative supporters by postponing talks on Turkey’s accession to the 27-member bloc.
But even among the three million people of Turkish origin living in Germany, there are many who put political realism ahead of patriotism when it comes to Merkel’s stance on Turkey.
“Turkey needs to develop further to reach EU standards, and it wasn’t very well prepared for talks,” said Demir, a university-educated businessman.
“Ultimately this has long been Merkel’s position so it’s no surprise,” added Demir, whose parents were among hundreds of thousands of Turkish workers who arrived in West Germany from the 1960s under a labour pact to power its post-war boom.
The depth of feeling about Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on peaceful protests that started in Taksim Square in Istanbul has swelled Turkish voices calling for EU talks to be halted to teach Ankara a lesson.
Add to that a drift towards the conservatives among Germans with Turkish roots and away from the centre-left, and Merkel’s position on Turkey and the EU has underlined divisions within a diaspora she has increasingly sought to court.
The EU had planned to open talks with Turkey dealing with regional politics this week, until Germany, backed by Austria and the Netherlands, blocked the plan.
Instead, EU governments on Tuesday backed a German-inspired proposal to open the regional policy chapter but delaying formal talks until after an October report by the European Commission on political reforms and human rights in Turkey.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly from the Turkish-German community, have taken to the streets in German cities in recent weeks to demonstrate and support protesters in Turkey.
Much of that anger comes from groups who might be expected to oppose Erdogan.
“The negotiations should be interrupted as Erdogan is not the right man to lead Turkey into the EU,” said Ali Dogan, a leader of the Alevi community in Germany.
The sect, related to Shi‘ite Islam, forms a large minority in Turkey where members say they lack the rights enjoyed by Erdogan’s Sunni majority.
But with opinion polls suggesting a majority of Germans oppose Turkish membership, any anti-Erdogan sentiment suits Merkel, whose centre-right Christian Democratic Union party reaffirmed its long-standing opposition to Turkey joining the EU in a new campaign programme at the weekend.
Turkey’s membership application has lingered for years. It became an associate in the 1960s but accession talks launched in 2005 got bogged down in a dispute over the divided island of Cyprus, an EU member, and opposition from Paris and Berlin.
The German centre-left opposition and some analysts accuse Merkel of using the Turkish accession issue to curry favour with conservative voters at home and argue that membership talks are the best way to ensure frank dialogue on Turkish democracy.
“It is tragic this all cannot be discussed in the chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights, justice and home affairs,” said Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute.
“EU leverage has diminished greatly over the years as a result of all the blockages in the EU entry process.”
Not everyone in the Turkish-German community supports Merkel’s position on EU accession.
Surreyya Inal, a Turkish-German tax advisor on the board of Germany’s Chambers of Commerce and Industry, suspects Berlin is worried that Turkey, with a population of almost 81 million that matches Germany‘s, would shift the balance of power in the EU.
“If Bulgaria and Romania can already fulfil the economic and political criteria, how come Turkey does not?” she asked.
Inal said German worries about a massive influx of Turkish workers that might follow EU accession were unfounded.
“It would actually be a stroke of luck for Germany to be able to draw on so many young graduates,” said the 48-year old businesswoman, adding that membership would also enable Turks living in Germany to have dual nationality.
This is a major source of tension in the Turkish community.
Baris Yesildag, a 26-year-old selling rich, sweet baklava pastries on a street stall, complained that he was treated like a second-class citizen compared to EU immigrants in Germany.
Sporting the red shirt of a Berlin football club where he coaches a youth team, Yesildag said he was born and raised in Germany and had done voluntary military service but was still not considered a proper German.
He was also regarded with suspicion because of his Muslim faith, he said.
“The community feels insulted if you say Turkey cannot be part of the EU. It’s like saying we are not Europeans,” he said. “Maybe they think Europe is Christian - but there are Muslims living in Germany with German nationality.”
Like many on the Turkish market selling fruit, oriental delicacies and textiles on the banks of the Spree, he felt strongly enough to say Turkey should turn its back on the EU.
“Turkey doesn’t need it,” he said. “In 10 years it has managed to rise up on its own, not like Greece or Spain which had to be dragged along, and look where they are now. Why should it beg?”
Editing by Stephen Brown and Mike Collett-White