Turkey-EU relations plumb new depths
Turkey’s quarrel with the EU escalated on all fronts over the weekend, with fresh “Nazi” insults, “terrorism” accusations, and death penalty and migrant threats.
The Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, personally accused German chancellor Angela Merkel of being a Nazi at a rally in Istanbul on Sunday (19 March).
“You are right now employing Nazi measures. Against who? My Turkish brother citizens in Germany and brother ministers,” he said.
He accused Germany of backing the Kurdish separatist PKK group, which both the EU and Turkey have designated as a terrorist entity, saying “the masked ball is over” on Turkey-EU relations.
He also accused Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German journalist, of being a Kurdish “terror agent”.
Yucel was working for Germany's Die Welt newspaper in Turkey until his arrest last month after a story that embarrassed Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Erdogan said on Saturday that he would “approve … without any hesitation” the reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey if MPs did “the necessary thing” in voting for it.
He had said on Friday that Turkish families living in Europe should have “not just three but five children” each, in order to “stake a claim”.
The dispute comes after Germany, as well as Austria and the Netherlands, blocked Turkish ministers from attending political rallies with Turkish expats ahead of Turkey’s referendum on 16 April.
The vote is designed to change the Turkish constitution to give Erdogan sweeping powers.
Erdogan has long-complained that Germany is not doing enough to fight the PKK and is not helping him to crack down on the followers of Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Muslim guru, whom the Turkish president says organised last July’s failed coup in Turkey.
Some 30,000 Kurdish protesters in Frankfurt on Saturday brandished pro-PKK banners and called for Turkey to free the group’s leader.
The head of Germany’s BND intelligence agency, Bruno Kahl, also told Der Spiegel, a German magazine, on Saturday that he did not believe Gulen was behind the coup.
“Turkey has tried to convince us of that at every level but so far it has not succeeded," Kahl said.
Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, told CNN Turk on Sunday that “it is unacceptable to see PKK symbols and slogans ... when Turkish ministers and lawmakers are being prevented from meeting their own citizens”.
He added that the BND comments were “a sign of their [Germans’] support for Feto”, an acronym for the label “Fethullah terrorist organisation”.
"Why are they protecting them? Because these are useful instruments for Germany to use against Turkey”, the Erdogan spokesman said.
The Turkish interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, added on Friday that Turkey would “blow the mind" of Europe by sending over 15,000 Syrian refugees a month.
The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, and European Commission president, Jean Claude-Juncker, reacted to the tirade in strong terms.
Gabriel told the Passauer Neue Presse, a German newspaper, in remarks published on Monday, that Erdogan’s comments on Merkel were “shocking” and that “a boundary has been crossed here”.
He told Der Spiegel on Saturday that Erdogan’s “provocations” were designed to create a foreign “bogeyman” to help him win the referendum.
“Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the EU than ever before,” he said.
Juncker, speaking in Bild, a German newspaper, on Sunday said he was against formally halting EU-Turkey accession talks because they had stopped anyway in de facto terms.
He added that the death penalty was a “red line”, however: "If the death penalty is reintroduced in Turkey, that would lead to the end of negotiations."
He said he did not believe in Turkey’s threats to abandon last year’s EU deal on stopping migrants because “it is not in Turkey’s interests to have smuggling rings and bandits in charge along its coast”.
He also said that most Turkish people living in Europe shared EU values and made a positive contribution to Europe’s economy.
“Not all Turks are little Erdogans,” Juncker said.