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To join EU, Turkey should let Christians build churches

Country/Region: Turkey

Volker Kauder, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in Germany
Volker Kauder, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in Germany
Vorderstrasse / CC BY 3.0

A leading German politician has criticised Turkey’s record on religious freedom, saying that the country should allow Christians to build churches without restrictions if it wants to join the EU.

Volker Kauder, chairman of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told a party congress last Wednesday (5 December) that he expected a “clear signal” on the issue from the Turkish government before membership talks, which began in 2005, could continue.

He said:

country that wants to be part of Europe must accept the basic principle of religious freedom. That means, that we expect Christians in Turkey to be able to build churches without any restrictions, just as Muslims build mosques here in Germany.

The EU has previously criticised Turkey’s treatment of its Christian community, which comprises less than 0.1% of the population. Despite Turkey’s having the veneer of a modern secular state, Christians face much discrimination, restrictions and occasional violence. The rights of churches to own property, conduct services and open other facilities such as theological schools are limited.

Despite Turkey’s human rights abuses, Britain has been a strong supporter of the country’s accession to the EU. Member states are divided on the issue.  

Mr Kauder’s comments come as the deadline for a draft of the new Turkish constitution looms with no sign of a consensus; the protection of freedom of religion or belief is one of the disputed issues.

Turkey’s Constitutional Reconciliation Commission (AUK) is meant to submit a draft to the Grand National Assembly by the end of the year. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that if the AUK cannot reach a consensus, his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will draft the constitution on its own.

A recent survey by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) found support within the country for constitutional changes that would protect freedom of religion or belief; 74.9% of respondents said that the new constitution should be compatible with international human rights obligations, which include freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

In this regard, Turkish society is ahead of the AKP, which has opposed the implementation of the country’s human rights obligations. Critics of the government say that it is trying to impose Islamic values by stealth. 

Turkish “secularism”, despite its name, involves close state supervision of religious activity. Just over half (50.6%) of respondents to the TESEV survey said that it should remain in the new constitution, while 47% said that they wanted this brand of secularism maintained on the condition that the state exercised an equal level of control over all religions. Non-Muslim minorities support the latter view.

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