German FM Maas: Turkey must free prisoners to mend ties with EU

Turkey cannot revive its strained relationship with the European Union (EU) until it frees German citizens it has detained, Germany’s foreign minister said on Friday as his Turkish counterpart called for a fresh start with the bloc, according to a report by Reuters.

Germany says 50 of its citizens are being held in Turkish prisons following a crackdown after a failed coup in July 2016. Only seven have been charged. Another 35 are blocked from leaving the country.

“These cases must be resolved,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who will make his first official trip to Ankara next week, told reporters during a meeting between EU foreign ministers and countries aspiring to join the European Union, including Turkey.

“That would be a step towards normalizing relations with Germany, but also with the European Union,” he said, adding that he would press the issue during his two-day trip to Ankara and İstanbul from Wednesday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in Vienna that the EU failed to understand Turkey’s security challenge.

“We don’t have any problem with the EU or with Europe, we are part of this continent,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters. “Yes, we have some issues with the European Union, particularly after the attempted coup. The measures we had to take were not understood by Europe … but now we want to normalize our relations.”

As well as reviving stalled EU membership talks, Ankara wants more EU money to house Syrian refugees, a deeper customs union with the bloc and progress in talks on letting Turks visit the EU without visas.

The EU is wary of what it sees as rapid backsliding on democracy and human rights in Turkey and was angered by rhetoric from President Tayyip Erdogan last year, including comparing the Dutch and German governments to Nazis.

Asked in Vienna if Turkey needed economic aid from the European Union to stop the fall in the value of the Turkish lira, Maas said: “The first thing for Turkey is to complete the conditions for normalization … the ball is in Turkey’s court.”

Meanwhile, Philippe Lambert, the Green party co-chair in the European Parliament, said on Friday that Turkey’s efforts to rejuvenate European ties was not convincing since the country was headed away from European values, Euronews Turkish service reported.

Turkey’s foreign, justice, interior and finance ministers held a “Reform Action Group” meeting about accession to the European Union on Wednesday after a three-year hiatus, signaling that the country is ready to make reforms in order to repair relationships with the EU countries.

After a row with the US over imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was put under house arrest after almost two years of incarceration on terrorism charges, Turkish foreign policy has been seeking a close relationship with the EU, some observers argue.

As the US administration threatened Turkey with “large sanctions,” European leaders issued statements in accordance with the alliance spirit, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said.

Pro-government columnist Abdülkadir Selvi stated that Turkey would put an end to the “symbolic arrests” in order to convince the EU about reforms, alluding to jailed businessman and activist Osman Kavala and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Enis Berberoğlu, in his column after the meeting.

Kavala and Berberoğlu were arrested on terrorism charges. (turkishminute.com)

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