PN Member Uta Zapf Shares her Views on Turkey-EU Relations

Uta Zapf / Kalem Journal
May 15, 2013

Kalem Journal had the chance to talk to Uta Zapf, deputy of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and chairperson of the subcommittee for "Disarmament, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation" of the Foreign Affairs Committee Germany.

Kalem Journal: Angela Merkel’s approach towards Turkey’s EU accession is often characterized as an unfair process and a holding back of the country. How much is Turkey’s EU accession on the program for the SPD? 

Uta Zapf: The SPD always characterized the process of Turkey’s EU accession under Angela Merkel’s government extremely unfair because of Turkey’s long connection to the EU. Another reason is the country’s early application for membership. The treaty of association is also a long time ago. We think this is stalling tactics. I was always advocating that there exist a stimulus for reforms in Turkey and we have to use this stimulus. This was also very visible in the first years. Ms. Merkel’s last visit in Turkey apparently was very difficult with just a few consents in small areas. Turkey’s EU accession is not the very center for the SPD but our attitude is when we once made a consent we will go all the way to the end until we finished the negotiations and have a final decision. 

Kalem Journal: Turkey often receives huge criticism when there are concerns about the upholding of human rights, gender equality, the situation for minority groups in the country, deficits in social policy, or freedom of press and opinion, even though in the past the government passed many laws regarding these issues. How do the social democrats want to address these problems and what kind of values can the SPD impart and pass towards Turkey? 

Uta Zapf: It is important that we talk very frank and honest about these deficits. Our critics and requirements on the reforms are always clearly stated. Already in the 90’s the SPD was advocating for a political solution in the conflict with the Kurds and were imposing demands on the Turkish government. The same applies for human rights where we observed progress, unfortunately not as much as to say we are in the clear. However, I am much more apprehensive about the disquisition of justice cases in Turkey. The mass arrests and the terribly long time for periods of remand are neither humanitarian nor can they be accepted in a constitutional state. Regarding the question on freedom of opinion I think Turkey is even regressing compared to the beginnings of the AKP government.  

Kalem Journal: Germany’s economic growth is around 0,5%; most of the Euro-countries are even worse. To the contrary Turkey is the new economic giant between Europe, Asia and Africa, even though the country’s economy was flagging since the last year. The country has everything the EU could dream of: high growth, low debts and a young population.  Germany is economically still stable but nobody knows how it will look in the future. How can the European Union, especially Germany, and Turkey profit more from each other? 

Uta Zapf: I am sure that through cooperation countries can always profit more from each other. This surely concerns every area. I could imagine Turkey could profit very much from Germany when looking at the generation of renewable energy sources; on how to generate energy without nuclear power plants, coal, etc. And I want to say a little carefully: Germany has a low growth but we are relatively stable. On the contrary, the economic growth in Turkey was quite decreasing recently. There are no certain predictions, which predict an increase for the Turkish economy and that the country is again close to the Asian Tigers. I would advice Turkey to focus on its strengths, which the country definitely has, and to advance these strengths. This for instance could be through investments in education. That would be of importance in order to stabilize the positive developments in Turkey.  

Kalem Journal: Angela Merkel became very unpopular in the EU due to her austerity program and is “saving Europe to death”. In more and more countries arise Europe-skeptic parties, which are against the Euro or even Europe (e.g. the Five Star Movement in Italy by Beppe Grillo; the Alternative for Germany (AfD); the UK Independence Party by Nigel Farage). Do you see any serious political future for these parties or will they disappear as fast as they arose? 

Uta Zapf: If I evaluate it correctly the Five Star Movement did not only establish due to a skepticism towards the Euro but especially because they are fed up to the back teeth with politics. This actually is a very big danger when politics cannot make any credible proposals towards its citizens and people turning away from politics. This development can surely make a contribution to a destabilization in these countries. The AfD in Germany is not an imminent danger I think. They might take away a few votes from one or another party but I do not expect them to be very developable.  

Kalem Journal: Painting it all black, could you imagine that one of the EU countries will leave the Union? 

Uta Zapf: I do not think so actually. If you are realistic the EU membership is a big advantage, especially in economical aspects. We definitely have to improve Europe’s policies. It would be preferable if we can head for common taxes in economy and a common social policy in order to reach a consolidation, which will affect everybody favorable, but I think this is in a distant prospect. However, I want to highlight another point: countries, which suddenly step out of the line of the European values. Hungary is an example. I am very worried about this and I am afraid that these tendencies will maybe strike roots in other countries.  

Kalem Journal: Turkey is due to the more than 200.000 refugees from Syria directly affected of the ongoing civil war. And end of the Syrian crisis is not in sight. Russia is one of the last supporters of the Assad Regime. Yesterday (8th of May) Russia and the United Stated announced to hold a Syria conference where both opposition and the Syrian regime will attend. Today (9th of May) got published that Russia is going to sell an advanced missile system to the Syrian regime. The is a big mistrust between the EU and the USA and Russia. Do you think there is a common way to solve the conflict in Syria? How does the SPD want to deal with the security-political changes in the world, especially in Middle East? 

Uta Zapf: That is extremely difficult. The question on the relation US, respectively Europe plus US and Russia are relatively stuck since several years. Something might has to happen that the Russians have the feeling they are in conversations on world politics and that they do not have to stick to old dictatorships in order to have any significance. I do not expect that the planned Syrian conference will bring any results. The groups, which are forced to meet at this conference, are much too heterogeneous. The question should be how we can help this terribly high number of refugees. If the refugees in Jordan are increasing the country is going to be destabilized and we have the next crisis. But I definitely do not see any end of the civil war in Syria, especially not when Assad is continuously equipped with arms.  

Kalem Journal: You were often advocating for the improvement of the Kurdish situation in Turkey and Iraq. I expect you to be very happy about the peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government. What do you think about these developments and what do you expect from the peace process? 

Uta Zapf: I hope very much that this agreement is going to endure; not like in the past where there were ceasefires or amnesty offers and then nothing happened. Reforms have to be enforced. That means for the Kurds: more autonomy, decentralization, cultural rights, and recognition of their identity; these are the core issues. There also has to be an economical development in the region, which has for a very long time been neglected. Moreover the process needs support. Also, when looking at the arising conflict in Iraq now there hopefully will not happen anything again. I hope very much that Erdogan and the Kurds get down to business.  

Kalem Journal: In the last year more than one million people immigrated to Germany, especially from South and East Europe. This is very good for the skill shortage in the country. But at the same time many well-educated German-Turks are moving to Turkey. How can Germany create a more welcome and attractive environment for migrants to stay in the country? Do you plan on modernizing the immigration laws; maybe also to make it easier to immigrate for non-EU-citizens like Turkish people? 

Uta Zapf: I definitely think we have to modernize the immigration law. Other parties in Germany agree on that. But the hardest ones are the conservatives CDU/CSU. Philipp Rösler (Federal Minister of Economics and Technology; Vice Chancellor of Germany.; Chairman of the liberal Free Democratic Party) advocated very decided for a reform of the immigration law a few days ago. I think on the whole we have to increase the permeability and cooperation. I think it is very fine when so many Spanish people are coming to Germany for earning money. But we also have to think about how to procure a better education to the people in order not to have a high number of unemployed persons, especially adolescents, with bad graduations. This has to become a common effort for whole Europe. 

And I guess it is going to be easier for qualified Turkish migrants. In Germany we still have the guest worker trauma: bad language skills, relatively low educations and we had the expectation that they are leaving again instead of focusing on a common ground to build something up together. This is where we actually are supposed to start. It is not particularly going to be only Turkish people but I think there will arise even bigger problems with African countries since they are also affected by the need for migration.


Originally published on Kalem Journal.

Photo by Haitham ali.