Berlin to change policy towards Turkey as German citizen is held



Germany’s foreign minister has announced a significant “reorientation” of its policy towards Turkey after a human rights activist became the latest German citizen to be detained for alleged terrorist activity.

“We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction ... we can’t continue as we have done until now,” Sigmar Gabriel told reporters at a press conference in Berlin on Thursday. 

“We need to be clearer than we have been until now so those responsible in Ankara understand that such policies are not without consequences.”

Berlin has issued new travel warnings of risks in Turkey for German tourists, and Gabriel said his government could no longer guarantee German corporate investment in Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government accused several companies including Daimler and BASF of ties to the movement of his political enemy Fethullah Gülen.

Gabriel also said he could not envisage talks on expanding the customs union to Turkey and would talk to other EU leaders about reviewing pre-accession funds being offered to Turkey.

The announcement marks a further deterioration of increasingly strained relations between the two countries.

German human rights consultant Peter Steudtner was detained at a human rights workshop on Monday with five others including Amnesty International’s country director, Idil Eser, for allegedly aiding a terror group.

The Turkey correspondent of the German broadsheet Die Welt, Deniz Yücel, has been detained on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation since February. 

Pre-trial detention in Turkey can last for up to five years.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, views the series of measures announced by Gabriel as “necessary and unavoidable”, her spokesman said in a tweet.

Reacting to the measures, Erdoğan’s spokesman said the two countries had “good relations”.

“It is not possible for us to accept statements aiming to blur the economic environment based on political motivation, we hope they turn back from this,” Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference in Ankara.

Some leading political figures in Germany accuse Erdoğan of gathering “political hostages” in an attempt to force Germany to hand over two high-ranking Turkish generals involved in last year’s failed coup who have applied for asylum in Frankfurt.

“Deniz Yücel and Peter Steudtner are being traded as political hostages,” said German Green party co-chair Cem Özdemir. 

“The government must no longer be ordered around.” 

A spokesperson at the German foreign office on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of a swap deal.

The foreign office’s travel warning states that Turkey had breached its international commitments by denying consular access to German citizens on pre-trial arrest. 

Even people travelling to Turkey for short trips are therefore advised to register themselves with the consulate or embassy ahead of their trip.

Turkey has described Germany’s demand for the release of human rights activist Steudtner as unacceptable and an attempt to interfere with the Turkish judiciary.

In a statement published on Thursday, Turkey’s foreign ministry said it has kept Germany’s chargé d’affaires in Ankara informed of Steudtner’s case, adding, “the independent Turkish judiciary must be trusted”.

The ministry said statements by the spokesmen for the German chancellor and foreign ministry constituted “diplomatic rudeness” and said the judiciary cannot be instructed or counselled by anyone.

The foreign ministry accused Germany of a “double standard”, saying it harbours members of terror groups and prevents their trial.

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