Erdogan’s ceremonial trip to Germany has been free of friction so far. He was given an official reception at the palace of German President Christian Wulff on Tuesday evening, and he will met Chancellor Angela Merkel at an event on Wednesday.
Merkel praised the first Turks who came to support West Germany’s booming economy five decades ago. “That was a courageous step,” she said, adding that successful integration of immigrants was a “joint achievement” of both Turks and Germans.
“Living together is always a give and take,” she said.
But Erdogan’s remarks in the run-up to his visit were less harmonious.
“German politicians do not acknowledge the contribution of the three million Turks in Germany enough,” he told the mass circulation Bild newspaper. He said there were 72,000 Turkish employers in Germany who provide 350,000 jobs.
“The guest workers of yesterday are slowly becoming the employers, academics, artists,” the Turkish head of government said.
Erdogan also criticized the insistence on learning German as a condition of living in Germany. He said this was unsupported in the relevant EU guidelines. “Making knowledge of German an important condition is against human rights,” he said.
Erdogan’s remarks have drawn a harsh response from German politicians. Green party spokesman Memet Kilic accused the Turkish prime minister of playing up to conservatives at home.
“The Turkish government of Prime Minister Erdogan consciously stokes up prejudices against Germany, in order to score points with hardliners in their own country,” he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Wednesday.
Kilic also slammed Erdogan for accusing German NGOs working in Turkey of providing indirect financial support to the Kurdish separatist group PKK. “Erdogan should apologize in Germany for his statements,” he said.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich admitted Germany had made mistakes in its integration policy in the past 50 years. “Unfortunately we allowed them to live together in districts in which they don’t have, or don’t want to have, contact to Germans,” he told broadcaster ZDF on Wednesday.
But Friedrich also reiterated the government’s opposition to granting dual citizenship. He said if immigrants want to stay in Germany, they should become German citizens. “And then they’re not Turks anymore,” he said.
The intractable issue of Turkey’s accession to the European Union is also a focus of this trip.
Erdogan said that Turks still regard the German people “with very positive feelings.” For that reason, he called on Germany to show more solidarity with Turkey. “German politicians should do much more to help Turkey enter the EU. That would drive integration forward a lot,” he said. “We feel like we’re being let down here.”
Turkey’s booming economy – currently reporting growth of ten percent – means that it is becoming less and less dependent on German imports.
A recent statement by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle suggests the scale of the concern for industry in this country. “We have to open the door to Europe very wide for Turkey, instead of constantly putting up new obstacles until one day Turkey turns away.”