The Turkish Prime Minister yesterday issued a stinging rebuke to Germany over its treatment of Turkish immigrants.
In remarks that highlight the resentment that has built up over the European Union's continued refusal to allow Turkey to join the club, Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted the Berlin Government's attempts to integrate its 3.5 million Turkish immigrants, and said policies that encouraged them to renounce their culture and speak German were a "violation of international law".
Erdogan - in Berlin on the first stop of a visit designed to strengthen his country's bid to join the EU - delivered his surprisingly outspoken verdict on Chancellor Angela Merkel's integration drive hours before he addressed a large gathering of Turkish immigrants in the western city of Dusseldorf.
His comments came after a senior member of Merkel's Government sparked an acrimonious row by demanding the negotiations over EU membership be halted because of Ankara's failure to permit religious freedom. Erdogan told the Rheinische Post that Germany's integration policies failed to consider the needs and expectations of its Turkish communities. Addressing the Government's campaign to encourage more Turks to speak German, he added: "Any policy which seeks to revoke the language and culture of migrants violates international law."
The Turkish Prime Minister's comments seemed destined to stir up an already heated integration debate in Germany, which culminated in January with a declaration by Merkel that attempts to build a multicultural society had "utterly failed".
There have also been widespread calls for a tightening of legislation governing the entry of Turkish immigrants who make up the majority of Muslims in Germany.
In an initial response to the Turkish Prime Minister's comments, the Government's conservative integration commissioner, Maria Boehmer, said that Erdogan should promote integration rather than criticise it.
"It would send a strong signal to our migrants of Turkish origin to tell them to learn German and take advantage of the opportunity to send their children to kindergarten," she insisted.
Erdogan was also unsparing in his criticism of Merkel, who has strongly opposed Turkey's attempts to gain full EU membership. She advocates that Ankara should be given "privileged partnership" status instead.
The Turkish Prime Minister accused Merkel of using "stalling tactics" in order to placate German voters who are opposed to Turkey's membership. "Never before have such hurdles been put before an EU accession country. The Turkish people expect Germany to take the lead role in the EU's membership negotiations with Turkey."