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 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