BERLIN German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Free Democrats (FDP) have agreed not to rule out Turkish membership in the European Union in their coalition agreement, sources from both camps said on Thursday.
The sources said the deal between the parties was likely to contain language similar to that included in Merkel's 2005 coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD).
In that document, the parties said: "If the EU is not in a position to take on new members or Turkey cannot fully meet all the criteria necessary for membership, Turkey must be bound closely to European structures in a way that allows its privileged relationship with the EU to develop further".
The EU unanimously agreed to open official accession talks with Turkey in 2005, shortly before Merkel took office.
Her conservative bloc opposes the bid and she has said repeatedly that Ankara should be offered a "privileged partnership" that stops short of full membership. Turkey rejects this notion.
But the FDP, whose leader Guido Westerwelle is likely to take over as Germany's foreign minister, does not strictly oppose the bid, even if his party has cited "major deficits" in Turkey's efforts to meet EU criteria.
Turkey has been accused of making too slow progress in areas such as improving human rights and reforming the judiciary.
The compromise between the centre-right parties that won a parliamentary majority in last month's German election represents a defeat for Merkel's Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), the staunchest opponents of the Turkish bid.
They will have pushed for stronger language in the coalition text, which will serve as a blueprint for a new government that is expected to be in place by next month.
A complete suspension of Turkey's EU bid would require unanimity among the 27 member states. Even among most supporters of Turkey's bid, membership is expected in decades rather than years.
(Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann; Writing by Noah Barkin; editing by Ralph Boulton)