German Evangelicals Reject Turkey’s EU Bid

The German Evangelical Alliance said Wednesday that it backs the Christian Democratic Parliamentary opposition in its rejection of Turkey’s bid to join the EU
( [email protected] ) Sep 25, 2004 04:52 PM EDT

An alliance representing 1.3 million Protestants in Germany said Wednesday that it backs the Christian Democratic Parliamentary opposition in its rejection of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union (EU). Like other groups, the German Evangelical Alliance has said that before joining the EU, Turkey would have to end the discrimination of Christians, respect minorities and guarantee equality for women.

Turkey, a member of NATO, has waited 40 years to become a part of Europe. Yet even after years of attempts to improve its egregious human rights record, the mainly Muslim country is not yet ready for admission, agreed the Christian Democratic leader Angela Merkel and the German Evangelical Alliance’s main board.

During a meeting in Berlin, on September 22, the Alliance’s expert on Islamic affairs, Christine Schirrmacher, pointed to the fact that many German citizens are afraid of Turkey becoming an EU-member. This also holds true for several other countries such as Denmark, where a recent poll showed 49 percent of Danish people were against Turkey's EU membership while 31 percent of them were supportive.

In a report released earlier this year by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), the organization said that public demands for change, a strengthening civil society, and EU candidacy requirements were working together to force positive change in Turkey despite continuing determined resistance within the civil service, judiciary, and security forces.

“The past year has brought substantial legislative reform, but established patterns of violations are proving hard to eradicate,” HRW reported.

“Police still routinely ill-treat detainees, and reports of outright torture in police custody persist. Prosecutors continue to indict writers and politicians who express a religious or ethnic perspective on politics, charging them with racial or religious hatred, as well as ‘insulting state institutions.’ Broadcasting and education in minority languages such as Kurdish were legally authorized in 2003, but regulatory obstructions have delayed the realization of these goals. The government has still not implemented an effective return program to assist the hundreds of thousands of Kurdish villagers displaced by conflict in the early 1990s.”

The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) similarly have reported that despite the government reforms to facilitate joining the European Union, there was no indication of increasing religious freedom. While the Turkish constitution includes freedom of religion, worship services are only permitted in "buildings created for this purpose," and officials have restricted the building of buildings for minority religions.

“The few who dare to profess Christ, face harassment, threats and prison,” reported VOM. “Evangelism is difficult because Turks tend to think of Christians in the same category as Armenian terrorists and Jehovah's Witnesses. While proselytism is not specifically forbidden, many prosecutors and police view it was suspicion, arresting them for disturbing the peace, ‘insulting Islam,’ conducting unauthorized educational courses, etc.”

Of the 67 million inhabitants of Turkey 99.6 percent are Muslims and 0.3 percent Christians. 55 evangelical churches have 3,000 members.

According to recent reports, the European Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen signaled green light for Turkey’s bid to join the EU after he had resolved controversies over the new Turkish penal code with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels, September 23.

Following Verheugen’s recommendations EU leaders will decide in December whether to open end negotiations with Turkey. The German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has welcomed admission talks and expects Turkey to be ready to join the EU in ten to fifteen years.