After detention of 2 more Germans, Merkel signals ‘rethinking’ ties with Turkey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that following the most recent detentions of German nationals in Turkey for political reasons, her country might reconsider its relations with Turkey. According to Merkel, there is no legal basis for the detention of German nationals in Turkey. “That’s why we need to react decisively here,” she said, adding that the government would “perhaps have to rethink” its relations with Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu slammed the reactions of German officials on the latest arrests of a German citizen couple over alleged links to the Gülen movement. Çavuşoğlu said that “When we first arrest a FETÖ (a derogatory acronym used by Erdoğan regime to label the Gülen movement) member, Germany causes a stir first. What is it to you? They say: ‘Why do you arrest our [German] citizens?’ They are Turkish citizens at the same time. If they are FETÖ members, if they were involved in the coup attempt or supported it, why do you look after them? Why does it bother you so much? Why do you give status to a traitor that had attempted to coup? Why do you give the right to seek asylum? It is because animosity against Turkey or because you love them so much?”

Earlier, Germany had signaled that there would be no extension of Turkey’s participation in a customs union with the European Union amid issues of democracy in Turkey. Germany informed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday that it would veto an update of a customs union agreement with Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there would be no progress with Turkey even in trade relations if the rule of law was not guaranteed in the country. “I do not see a mandate to expand the customs union under the current circumstances,” Merkel said.

Underlining that good ties between countries are linked to respect for the rule of law, Merkel noted this is not guaranteed right now in Turkey.

Merkel also reiterated Germany’s demand for Turkey to free journalists and rights workers from pretrial detention, including Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel, who was arrested in Turkey in February on charges of disseminating propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting the public to violence. “Our demand is very clear: that the people who have been arrested there be released,” she said.

On Aug. 16 the German government asked the European Commission to suspend preparatory work on negotiations with Turkey for modernizing the EU-Turkey customs union because it would send the “wrong signal” to Turkey in light of recent events.

“We will not exert extra efforts to continue the customs union agreement with Turkey,” Merkel said during an interview with four high-profile YouTube stars as part of a campaign for the prime ministerial elections.

The customs union between Turkey and the EU entered into force on Dec. 31, 1995. It covers all industrial goods but does not address agriculture — except processed agricultural products — services or public procurement.

The European Commission had stated on Dec. 21, 2016 that it had asked the European Council for a mandate to launch talks with Turkey to modernize the existing EU-Turkey customs union.

 

Meanwhile, leading German politician Greens Co-chair Cem Özdemir said on Friday that Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not a head of state, but rather a hostage-taker, following the most recent detentions of two more German nationals in Turkey.

Özdemir, who is the son of a Turkish family that immigrated to Germany, told the Bild daily that Erdoğan has been ruining the honor of his position and that nobody can claim to be safe in Turkey these days.

Moreover, a Kurdish news agency reported on Saturday that an alleged Turkish spy named Mehmet Fatih Sayan reportedly told German authorities following his asylum request that Turkey’s spy agency asked him to hire Kurdish men to beat Özdemir.

Sayan had been detained in December 2016 by German police for plans to assassinate Kurdish critical individuals abroad. According to the Der Spiegel magazine it was stated in an indictment in Germany said that Sayan had received 30,000 euros for his spying activities from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT)

Back in March, Özdemir had commented on the spying activities of Turkey’s MİT targeting Turkish citizens in Germany, saying Turkish informants who believe President Erdoğan is so wonderful can go live in Turkey.

“People who have problems with basic rights are not forced to live here. Those who think Erdoğan is so wonderful, they can go live in Turkey. I don’t mean that people who support Erdoğan can’t live in Germany. But informing on those who don’t think the same, trying to oppress and frighten them, is not acceptable,” Özdemir had said.

According to Deutsche Welle, the German consulate in İzmir has been informed of the arrest of the two Germans, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday. The airport police in Antalya later confirmed that the arrests had taken place the day before. The ministry’s spokesperson Maria Adebahr told reporters that “we have to assume the arrests could be politically motivated.” Currently 55 Germans, at least four of them with dual citizenship, are in Turkish prisons, tweeted DW’s Christoph Strack.

In the run-up to the elections in Germany, the opposition parties urged Merkel to issue an official travel warning for Turkey. Most recently, the German foreign minister said Germans could be arrested in Turkey even during a vacation on the grounds that the owner of the hotel in which they are staying is accused of ties to the Gülen movement. Turkey has been undertaking a massive purge against real and perceived supporters of the Gülen movement.

Against such a backdrop, Merkel indicated a change of tone with Turkey during a business event in the southern city of Nuremberg, noting that Germany had already fundamentally revamped its relations with Ankara. “Given the latest events, perhaps it is necessary to rethink them ever further,” she said.

Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan has long been accusing Germany of harboring terrorists, while the pro-Erdoğan media claim that Germany is working systematically to undermine the development of Turkey. Germany hosts around 3 million immigrants of Turkish descent.

Turkey is a popular vacation destination for German tourists. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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