- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 17, 2005

KEHL AM RHEIN, Germany — Before today’s elections and with polls showing his party finally gaining ground, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder tried to woo Germans of Turkish origin.

The Social Democratic chancellor last week visited the Frankfurt publishing house of Huerriyet, which with 180,000 readers is one of the Turkish-German community’s most influential newspapers.

Stressing his friendship to the Turkish community in Germany and his firm backing for Turkey’s full membership in the European Union, Mr. Schroeder made a bid to secure the Turkish-German vote, a group numbering roughly 450,000. After winning a second term in 2002 by just 6,000 votes and recent polls indicating today’s race was tightening, every vote seems to count.

Most Germans, however, oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU and side with conservative chancellor candidate Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who said Ankara should be content with a “privileged partnership” at best. German conservatives argue Turkey is not ready to join the EU because of Ankara’s “continuing refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state,” and its “significant problems in upholding and imposing human rights.”

Financial strains and fears of an uncontrolled stream of immigrants are also reasons conservatives cite for their reluctance to back Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

Mr. Schroeder said Turkey’s full membership is necessary for security in the region. Turkey is expected to begin membership negotiations with the EU on Oct. 3.

The stand of the CDU and its Christian Socialist Union allies against full Turkish EU membership has alienated many Turkish-Germans, who are likely to vote in droves for the SPD — the initials in German of the Social Democratic Party — if they actually do vote.

“Schroeder clearly wanted to mobilize Germans with Turkish origins to go to the polls on Sunday,” Andreas Wuest, a political analyst at Mannheim University, told UPI on Thursday. “But I wouldn’t have advised him to do that so close to the elections. He might lose some conservative swing voters.”

Those swing voters might be influenced by the conservative German mass-circulation daily Bild, which on Wednesday ran the controversial front-page headline: “Will Turks decide the election?” over a photo of Mr. Schroeder speaking in front of a Turkish flag.

Mr. Wuest called the headline “absurd,” since Turks living in Germany can’t vote unless they are naturalized German citizens.

“Turkish-Germans are a pretty stable voting group, they are informed and often hold similar social positions than their German counterparts,” he said.

Mr. Wuest has in recent years monitored the voting behavior of Turkish-Germans, who always side with the SPD. In the 2002 elections, more than 80 percent of Turkish-Germans voted for either Mr. Schroeder’s SPD or the Alliance 90/Green Party, which backs the integration of immigrants. The CDU/CSU got roughly 12 percent, a figure that may decline, given Mrs. Merkel’s stance on Turkey’s EU membership.

Ties with the SPD are strong. In the 1970s, the SPD was the first party to approach and try to integrate the Turkish “Gastarbeiter,” a group of foreigners that had come to and stayed in Germany to fill the many available working-class jobs. During Mr. Schroeder’s leadership, legislation was passed making it easier for Turks and other immigrants to acquire German citizenship.

Germany’s conservatives could nevertheless do better with Turkish-born Germans, Mr. Wuest said.

“Many Turkish-Germans are pretty conservative,” he said. “But of course conservative Muslims generally have a problem voting for a Christian party. The CDU might have to alter its party profile in the long run, if it doesn’t want to lose voters in light of Germany’s societal change.”

Roughly 2 million Turks live in Germany, many of them are integrated, but others live in ethnic ghettos in Berlin-Kreuzberg or Hamburg-Altona, where German often is a second language.

The Free Democratic Party, Mrs. Merkel’s coalition partner, would be a good match for Turkish-Germans, but the party has so far not approached the Turkish-German community, Mr. Wuest said.

The CDU/CSU traditionally ignores the Turkish-German vote, after Mr. Schroeder’s media-heavy appearance, however, the conservatives decided to fire back.

“It would be disastrous if Germans with Turkish origins focused on loyalty to their fatherland rather than thinking about their own interest in a strong and prosperous Germany,” Hesse’s State Premier Roland Koch told Bild.

Mr. Wuest, however, said the issue of EU membership for Turkey is elevated by the press onto a stage more important to Turkish-Germans than it really is.

“Turkish-Germans are people who have consciously decided to come to Germany,” he said. “The whole discussion is a bit overrated.”

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