Turkey’s Erdoğan meets with EU top officials, France’s Macron, Germany’s Merkel in Brussels

Following a months-long war of words between Ankara and Brussels, Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk at EU headquarters, on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Erdoğan met also with newly elected French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels.

“We discussed the need to cooperate. I put the question of human rights in the centre of our discussions with @RT_Erdogan,” Tusk tweeted following the meeting.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday called on EU officials to signal to Erdoğan that discussion of upgraded economic cooperation is dependent on Ankara’s willingness to tackle its human rights and rule of law crisis.

“At the first meeting with President Erdoğan after he won a referendum that expands his power, the EU should put human rights firmly back into the picture,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at HRW.

“Presidents Juncker and Tusk should convey the message that with Turkey’s EU accession stalled, deeper economic cooperation under a possible new customs union will depend on Erdoğan ending the deplorable crackdown in Turkey and taking steps to uphold human rights and the rule of law.”

Relations between Ankara and Brussels reached crisis levels during the campaign for an April 16 referendum on constitutional amendments in Turkey.

Attacking EU countries during his nonstop “yes” campaign ahead of the referendum, Erdoğan said Europe is the center of Nazism today and will pay a heavy price for it.

Describing the EU as “the alliance of crusaders,” Erdoğan called on people to respond to the EU in the referendum on April 16.

“Did the EU open the door and Turkey did not get in? There is an EU which has driven Turkey from pillar to post at its door for 54 years. … We have honor. We will not let them play with it. … If EU representatives treat us fairly and with honor, we can continue talks. If not we can go our own way,” said Erdoğan last week in response to calls by Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD) officials on the government to push for the EU membership process.

Erdoğan also had a meeting with newly elected French President Emanuel Macron at  the Steigenberger Wiltcher’s Hotel. Erdoğan promised Macron that he would examine the case of French photojournalist Mathias Depardon, who has been under detention in Turkey since May 8. According to French media, when Macron raised the issue during the meeting, Erdoğan promised to quickly look into Depardon’s case.

Depardon, who was detained on May 8, 2017 after photographing the local scenery in Turkey’s southeastern Batman province and is waiting for his deportation from Turkey, has been on a hunger strike since last weekend.

Accused of disseminating the propaganda of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on social media, Depardon was released by a Turkish court last week. Following the court decision he was taken to the Gaziantep Immigration Authority in the Oğuzeli district of Gaziantep province for deportation. However, the journalist has been waiting for his deportation in a cell for 15 days.

A Twitter message posted by the Turkey branch of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday said: “French journalist Mathias Depardon who is being kept in an immigration center in Gaziantep for 15 days has been on a hunger strike for three days. This arbitrary situation must be ended.”

According to Turkish media, Erdoğan and Macron have also agreed on cooperation in the defense industry and increasing the bilateral trade volume to 20 billion euros.

Macron on April 17 had reacted to the results of an April 16 referendum in Turkey on constitutional amendments switching the country to a presidential system of governance, writing on his Twitter account: “The referendum of yesterday marks the authoritarian drift of Turkey.”

“If I am elected President, I will do anything to help the Turkish democrats, who continue to fight,” promised Macron in a subsequent Twitter message.

Erdoğan also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels on Thursday on the sidelines of the NATO summit, amid tension between Ankara and Berlin over Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase. The meeting, which was closed to the press, lasted for 30 minutes.

Speaking to the media ahead of the meeting, Merkel threatened to withdraw German soldiers from the Turkish airbase in İncirlik, Deutsche Welle reported.

“I will make it very clear to the Turkish President during our talks that it is indispensable for our soldiers to be able to be visited by members of the German Bundestag, as ours is a parliamentary military,” Merkel said. “Otherwise we will have to abandon Incirlik.”

In response to statements from Berlin that troops might be moved to another country, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last week that Germany was welcome to withdraw its troops from İncirlik if it so desired.

“If they want to leave, let’s just say goodbye. That’s up to them, and we won’t beg them,” Çavuşoğlu told Turkish broadcaster NTV.

Tension between Germany and Turkey escalated over the arrest of two Turkish-German journalists on terrorism charges and Berlin’s decision to grant asylum to military officers and other diplomatic passport holders who Ankara accuses of involvement in a failed coup attempt on July 15.

The tension turned into a crisis when the Turkish government blocked a group of German lawmakers from visiting troops stationed at Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase on May 15.

Germany has more than 250 troops stationed at İncirlik along with Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling aircraft that are flown as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The delegation of German lawmakers called off the trip to Turkey after they were told that they would not be able to meet with Turkish officials or visit Parliament, Green Party deputy parliamentary speaker Claudia Roth said on Wednesday.

The three-day visit scheduled to begin on Thursday was to include stops in İstanbul, Ankara and the largely Kurdish city of Diyarbakır. (SCF with turkishminute.com) May 25, 2017

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