Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

Bad weekend for EU-Turkey relations

  • Sarkozy (l) and Erdogan in Ankara. Sarkozy chewed gum upon arrival, considered insulting by his hosts (Photo: elysee.fr)

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused German society of "xenophobia" and the German government of "discrimination" ahead of a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The remarks follow an unfriendly encounter with French President Sarkozy.

Speaking to a group of ethnic Turks in Dusseldorf on Sunday (27 February) ahead of his meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hannover on Monday, Mr Erdogan said: "We are observing the xenophobia in certain European countries, notably Germany, with great unease ... Islamophobia is a crime against humanity, just as anti-Semtism is."

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He urged German politicians not to feed the fear of foreigners, but also called on the 2.5 million ethnic Turks in Germany to try to fit in.

"I want everybody to learn German and to get the best level of education they can ... I want Turkish people to be present at all levels in Germany, in the administration, in politics, in civil society," he added, the German press agency, DPA, reports.

A day earlier on Saturday, in an interview with the regional daily, the Rheinische Post, the Turkish premier came close to accusing Ms Merkel's political party of racism.

"The Turkish population is waiting for Germany to play its role as the motor of the EU in the case of Turkish accession negotiations, as it used to be the case with older CDU [Christian Democrat Union] governments," he said. "Obviously, developments in the accession process up till now give the impression of discrimination."

Mr Erdogan's remarks come in the context of a worsening political climate for migrants in Germany.

Last October, Ms Merkel said that multiculturalism had "utterly failed" and called on migrants to learn German. In September a top central bank official, Thilo Sarrazin, resigned after saying that Arabs and Turks were stupid and exploited the welfare state.

Mr Erdogan's comments also come after an awkward visit by French leader Nicolas Sarkozy to Ankara on Friday.

Mr Sarkozy annoyed his hosts even before he spoke by opting to come in his role as G20 chairman instead of as the French head of state, by cutting the trip to just six hours and by chewing gum when he exited the plane to greet VIPs.

He then told press at a meeting with Turkish President Abduallah Gul that Turkey would "destabilise" the EU if it joined.

"We've got a point of disagreement which everybody knows about ... Let us speak like statesmen, that means in such a way that we try to understand the other side, to find a way forward which does not destabilise Europe or humiliate Turkish society," he said.

"I think there exists a balanced option between [EU] membership and a [privileged] partnership, which Turkey has many times said it does not want."

Mr Gul said only that the EU should respect the promises it made when it started accession talks in 2005.

Mr Erdogan said Mr Sarkozy's actions look like a provocation designed to encourage Turkey to quit the accession process. "We would have liked to welcome him as president of France ... I think this is not a visit at the level of friendship between Turkey and France. Turkey and Turkish-French ties deserve better than that," he said.

For his part, the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, chewed gum in protest while seeing off the Frenchman at the airport.

Mr Erdogan's meeting with Ms Merkel, as well as a planned trip to Brussels on Tuesday, were postponed because the Turkish leader flew back to Ankara for the funeral of former Turkish leader Erbakan Necmettin, who died on Sunday.

This article was updated at 10.15 Brussels time on 28 February, adding the fresh information on the postponement

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