ANKARA (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to meet Turkey's leaders on Monday for talks focusing on Ankara's troubled bid to join the European Union and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Ahead of the trip, Merkel said she was sceptical about Turkey's eventual membership in the EU but favoured opening negotiations on one out of 35 policy chapters that every candidate must conclude to join the bloc.
"These negotiations have stalled a little recently and I am in favour of opening a new chapter in these talks so we can advance," Merkel said in her weekly video message, stressing that "a long path of negotiations lies ahead of us".
Germany is one of the EU heavyweights, along with France, opposed to Turkey's membership in the 27-nation bloc and has instead offered "privileged membership," a tailored version that falls short of Ankara's aspirations.
Still, it has not vetoed any of the negotiating chapters of the EU law - which cover human rights, economic, environmental and other issues - unlike France, which blocked five under right-wing former President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Chancellor Merkel also has hesitations about Turkey's membership to the EU but I have to give her credit. She is not blocking my chapters," Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis told AFP last week.
A public opinion poll published on Sunday revealed unease among Germans regarding Turkey's EU entry, with six out of 10 surveyed opposed.
Germany has a sizeable Turkish population of about three million.
France said this month it was ready to resume talks with Ankara on one chapter, breathing life into the fledgling talks.
Ankara welcomed the move as a sign of a change of heart in Europe and demanded stronger support from Berlin and Paris for a "fair chance" in its membership process.
Turkey, an associate member of the old European Economic Community since 1963, first sought to become an EU member in 1987 but did not launch formal accession talks until 2005.
But the talks essentially came to a halt because of a dispute over the divided island of Cyprus, which is a member of the bloc, and opposition from France and Germany.
Despite friction between the two countries on Turkey's EU aspirations, Germany remains one of Turkey's most important trading partner. Bi-lateral trade stands at 25 billion euros ($33 bln) annually.
Merkel later Monday was to attend a Turkish-German economic forum in Ankara.
The chancellor, whose last visit was in March 2010, arrived in Turkey on Sunday and headed to the southeastern city of Kahramanmaras near the Syrian border to visit German troops stationed there since January.
The 300 German troops are operating two Patriot batteries brought in to protect NATO ally Turkey from any conflict spillover from Syria, another issue that is expected to be central to Monday's talks.
Merkel also visited the ancient Anatolian town of Cappadocia, where she met with Christian minorities and toured the open air museum famous for its display of early Christian heritage.