Despite some German officials’ attempts to defuse tensions with Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her position that Turkey had no place in European Union, saying it was “drifting away from the rule of law”. She pledged to push other EU countries to suspend or end Turkey’s EU accession talks.
Merkel said a year long diplomatic spat with Turkey called for “a rethink of Germany’s and the EU’s relations with Turkey”, Reuters reported.
“I will push for a decisive stand … But we need to coordinate and work with our partners,” she said, warning that EU has to take a unified position, because disputes would empower Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
During the Sunday televised debate Merkel’s main challenger in the upcoming ellections, Martin Schulz, accused Turkey of “crossing all the red lines”, and pledged to stop Turkey’s EU membership bid. Despite initial hesitation to be clear on the matter, Merkel eventually agreed, saying Turkey should not become a member of the EU and promising to speak to European leaders in order to end Ankara accession talks.
Ankara, a longtime EU membership candidate, reacted swiftly, accusing German politicians of populism. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted: “Germany and Europe’s attacks on Turkey/Erdoğan, in ignoring necessary and pressing problems, are reflections of the narrowing of their horizons. We hope the problematic atmosphere that made Turkish-German relations the victim of this narrow political horizon will end.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also reminded Germany of its bargaining capital – an agreement between Ankara and EU which saw Turkey keeping in the refugees from Middle Eastern conflict zones in exchange for financial aid and provisions such as visa-free travel for Turks in Europe and faster EU membership talks.
Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, however, softened her rhetoric, saying Turkey’s current position is not promising, precipitating a dormant status of negotiations with EU.
Merkel’s comments prompted reactions from European Commission, whose spokesman said that Turkey is “making it impossible…to join the EU”. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, on the other hand, claimed that Turkey was still a candidate and that talks would be continued.
The latest events are another political showdown in an increasingly strained relationship between Turkey and several European countries. The failed 2016 coup attempt triggered a crisis in diplomatic relations with Brussels, when the government’s crackdown was followed by declaration of a state of emergency which is still in place, resulting in more than 50,000 people arrested – including German and EU nationals – and over 150,000 people sacked from public sector jobs.
While Erdogan’s government says these measures are justified by the need to address national security concerns and root out “a deeply embedded network of Gulen supporters”, Turkey’s Western allies accused Erdogan of using the coup aftermath to quash all dissent and opposition.
Last month, Germany’s requested to put financial pressure on Turkey, after Ankara’s refusal to let German lawmakers visit soldiers serving at military bases in the country. On multiple occasions, Erdogan accused Germany of racism, Nazism, populism, being enemies of Turkey and abetting terrorists by not responding to reports sent to Berlin or handing over suspects wanted by Turkish authorities. He also called on German citizens of Turkish origin not to vote for Merkel, Shulz or Green Party.
In August, European Union also put additional pressure on Ankara by witholding pre-accession aid, with EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger saying it was “very unlikely” the EU would hand over the remainder of promised 4.3 billion Euros.