Frosty reception for Turkish president

A party founded by late right-winger Jörg Haider has caused a diplomatic rift by announcing that the Turkish president “is not welcome” in Austria.The Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) was established by Haider in 2005. The party said yesterday (Mon) – when Abdullah Gül started a three-day visit to Austria – that the federal Turkish president was unwelcome. Both the BZÖ and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) – its main rightist rival – announced it planned to boycott the state banquet held to mark the occasion of Gül’s visit.Austrian President Heinz Fischer emphasised yesterday: “The Turkish president is very welcome in Austria. I do not want to engage myself in analysing such impolite remarks of little relevance any further.”Fischer said he considered the ongoing negotiations between European Union (EU) officials and Turkish representatives considering a joining of the country as “difficult”, but added that the process should be handled in a fair way since it was based on an unanimous EU agreement.Austria is considered to be one of the EU member states trying to delay or avoid a Turkish membership. The Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) back the negotiations, but also made clear that there are still several delicate issues the the EU and Turkey must speak about such as human rights and gender inequalities.ÖVP Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger recently stressed he would ensure that a referendum among Austrians would be the final chapter of a possible accession of Turkey.Wolfgang Waldner, the new state secretary in the Austrian foreign ministry, signalled sympathy for a membership of Turkey in the EU in an interview last week. “I personally think that a country of such great political and economic importance is an interesting option,” Waldner told Die Presse.The state secretary added: “We want to get Turkey closer to the EU’s values. This is a lengthy process.”Gül said yesterday that his compatriots living in Austria should learn German so they can contribute something to society. The Turkish president added that emigrated Turks should also be able to speak Turkish. “People of Turkish origin in Austria could act as bridge builders,” he said.The Turkish president also asked Austria for support of his country’s bid to become the EU’s 28th member. The president claimed a joining of Turkey would pose a win-win situation for the Austrian society and its companies as new jobs would be created in Austria. Around six in 10 Austrians oppose a Turkish EU membership, according to polls.Eighteen per cent of Austrians (2009: 13 per cent) spoke out in favour of a so-called privileged partnership between the EU and Turkey, while only four per cent are in favour of Turkey becoming the EU’s 28th member. Seven per cent said the same in May of last year.Gül criticised the EU for having started talks with Russia and Ukraine regarding the potential end of visa restrictions for their citizens while there has been no progress in considering Turkey in the same matter. Gül claimed many Turkish companies were doing well selling their products across Europe, while firms’ representatives were unable to visit the countries to present them due to stringent visa rules affecting Turkish people.Gül – who has been in office since 2007 – pointed out that his country’s economy was a promising market for European businesses as it grew by 8.9 per cent last year.Up to 200 Austrian companies are operating in Turkey where 12 per cent of the population are unemployed. Vienna-based energy sector giant OMV recently increased its interest in Turkish petrol station chain Petrol Ofisi by 54.14 per cent to 95.72 per cent.Marco Garcia, the Austrian Trade Commissioner in the Turkish capital Istanbul, said in October: “Turkey offers business-friendly policies, safe legal structures and a booming stock market.”Austria is currently the eighth-biggest investor in the country, according to Garcia.The latest attacks by the BZÖ and the FPÖ came half a year after Kadri Ecvet Tezcan, the Turkish ambassador in Vienna, made headlines by suggesting Austria should “chase away” foreigners if the country did not want them to live here.Tezcan also told Die Presse last November: “The Turks (in Austria) don’t want anything from you. They are happy, they just don’t want to be treated like a virus.”The diplomat faced harsh criticism from representatives of all political parties in Austria after revealing that he would relocate the United Nations (UN) from Vienna were he the head of the organisation.Tezcan also said that Turks were “constantly pushed to the corners of society” in Austria, while Croats were welcome in the country’s society “for being Christians”.Spindelegger said at that time that he considered the statements of Tezcan – who was not reprimanded or removed from his post by his country’s government – as “insulting”.SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann labelled the diplomat’s words as “unprofessional and unacceptable”, while FPÖ chief Heinz-Christian Strache said that Tezcan was an “arrogant nationalist” who should be dismissed from his position.Turks are the third-strongest minority with 183,000 members after Germans (213,000) and the 207,000 people from Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Not only right-wing politicians have claimed that many Turks must show more efforts in integrating into society in Austria instead of living in so-called parallel societies.