Friday

24th May 2019

NATO talks on Rasmussen impact EU-Turkey relations

  • Summit chamber: Turkish President Abdullah Gul was not happy with the EU being brought up in NATO discussions (Photo: nato.org)

NATO on Saturday (4 April) named Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as its new secretary general, overcoming Turkish opposition during difficult talks which caused fresh tension in EU-Turkey relations.

Turkish resistance to the Rasmussen nomination centered around his support for Danish media after newspapers published cartoons of Mohammed in 2006.

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The stalemate saw EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn suggest to Finnish state broadcaster YLE that Ankara may be unfit to join the EU because it does not respect freedom of speech.

"This will surely raise questions amongst EU member states and citizens on how well Turkey has internalised such European values as freedom of expression," Mr Rehn said.

Politicians in the circle of German Chancellor Angela Merkel also attacked Turkey.

"Whoever puts Islamic propaganda above the future of NATO and our European system of values, has nothing to look for in the EU," Alexander Dobrint, the secretary general of Ms Merkel's sister party, the Christian-Social Union, told German press.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul did not take kindly to the remarks, calling the EU commissioner's intervention "unfortunate" and "unpleasant" and warning that it woud increase anti-EU sentiment in Turkey.

"This was a NATO, not an EU meeting and I shared this with European heads of state," Mr Gul said at a press conference after the NATO summit in Strasbourg. "Although there are several European members of NATO, you can't take a decision in the EU and impose it on NATO, these two can't be linked."

The Turkish president explained that promises made by US President Barack Obama, rather than the veiled threats on EU accession, finally secured Ankara's approval for the Danish appointment.

Obama-brokered deal

"I had a long bilateral meeting with Mr Obama which was very fruitful and our concerns were overcome and wishes respected. We then had a trilateral meeting with Mr Rasmussen," he said.

In return for backing down, Turkey is to get a newly-created post of deputy secretary general of NATO and several Turkish officers inside the alliance's military command.

For his part, the Danish PM took a conciliatory approach.

"I made it clear I will reach out to the Muslim world and I will make sure we will co-operate closely with Turkey," he told press in Strasbourg.

Mr Rasmussen also pledged to look into Danish-based Kurdish TV station Roj TV, which Ankara wants off the air.

"If Roj TV is involved in any terrorist activities, we will do everything to shut it down," he said.

Mr Rasmussen will go with Mr Obama to Ankara on Monday, where the pair will take place in a UN "Alliance of Civilisations" symposium on promoting inter-faith diaogue.

Forty five-year old liberal finance minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen is to take over as the new Danish PM at home.

Italian intermezzo

Turkey's hard bargaining saw some European leaders break wih protocol at the largely ceremonial 60th anniversary NATO summit.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spent 40 minutes talking on his cell phone with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara about the Rasmussen problem, causing him to miss the family photo and a minute's silence for fallen NATO soldiers.

The Italian leader was so absorbed on the phone he forgot to walk up the red carpet to his waiting co-hostess Angela Merkel, who eventually shrugged her shoulders and carried on with the ceremony.

Asked later if the phone conversation had helped in any way, Turkish president Gul smiled and said that "[Mr Berlusconi] really wanted to get the result and worked very hard for it."

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