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DIPLOMACY >Turkey slams Germany’s language in election campaign row

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Turkey on Sept. 4 harshly criticized the hardened tone used by German officials adopting an “anti-Turkey stance” and obstructing Ankara’s EU prospects weeks before the country’s Sept. 24 federal elections, amid ongoing tension between the two NATO allies.

Commenting on remarks about the country and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aired on TV debate by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz on Sept. 3, presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said they amounted to “a reflection of Europe’s narrowing horizon.” 

“The fact that Germany and Europe are attacking Turkey and Erdoğan, disregarding their fundamental and urgent problems, is a reflection of Europe’s narrowing horizon,” Kalın tweeted on Sept. 4, adding that the fact that Ankara and the president were dominant topics during the debate between the two was “not a coincidence.”

“The anti-Turkey thoughts in Europe have become a tool of relief through creating an enemy ‘other’ and postponing the fundamental problems,” he said.

“The fact that mainstream German politics has submitted to populism and otherizing-antagonizing will only fuel discrimination and racism,” Kalın said.

He also claimed that it “does not matter” who wins the German election, as the “mentality adopted to win the vote is obvious.”   

“The fact that Merkel and Schulz never touched on discrimination and increasing racism throughout the debate shows the point to which German politics has reached,” Kalın said.

“We hope this problematic atmosphere, which sacrifices Turkish-German relations to a narrow political horizon, will change soon,” he said.

During the debate, Merkel said she would seek an end to Ankara’s membership talks with the EU, marking a shift of her previous position.

“The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” Merkel said.

“I’ll speak to my [EU] colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks,” she added.

The German chancellor’s comments came after Schulz appeared to surprise her by vowing to push for an end to the negotiations if he was elected chancellor in the federal election.

“If I become German chancellor, if the people of this country give me a mandate, then I will propose to the European Council that we end the membership talks with Turkey,” Schulz said. 

“Whether we can win over all the countries for this I don’t know. But I will fight for this,” he added.

Merkel initially cautioned against such a move, saying it would be irresponsible to endanger ties with Turkey at a time when German citizens are imprisoned there.

“I do not intend to break off diplomatic relations with Turkey just because we’re in an election campaign and want to show each other who is tougher,” she said.

But after the moderators had moved on and asked the two candidates a question about U.S. President Donald Trump, Merkel returned to the Turkey issue, suddenly throwing her weight behind an end to the membership talks.

Separately, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sept. 4 that Ankara was “regretfully” monitoring the tendency for political leaders in Germany and Austria to establish an “anti-Turkey stance,” using opposition to its EU membership process as election campaign material.

“Principally, there is a worrying situation in discourse of the election campaigns by the mentioned countries, particularly for Europe. The fact that politicians of those countries, who are candidates to determine the future of their citizens, are surrendering to raw populism based on an anti-Turkey stance, rather than developing solutions for political and economic tests, poses not only a serious threat for Europe but also for the whole world,” the ministry said, adding that such an approach would encourage “xenophobic, racist and Islamophobic” movements.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also criticized German politicians sparring in a weekend debate for focusing on Turkey rather than Germany’s own pressing problems.

"The debate started with Turkey and ended with Turkey. The election isn’t taking place in Turkey, it is taking place in Germany,” Çavusoğlu told reporters in Slovenia while attending a foreign policy forum.

“Do German politicians have any other messages to present to their people besides Turkey? How will they solve the problems in Germany?"

The minister said German politicians should have talked instead about the rising racism in Germany and Europe, Islamophobia, antisemitism, the European economy, and the future of the European Union.

"Looking at these debates, we see populism at its peak. Europe must get rid itself of this political populism," Cavuşoğlu stressed.

In addition, Turkey’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik said on Sept. 4 that any talk of ending Ankara’s EU accession negotiations amounted to an “attack on Europe’s founding principles.”

“They are building a Berlin wall with the bricks of populism,” Çelik tweeted. 

Turkey will “keep going with its head held high as a European country and a European democracy,” he added.  

Later in the day, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that one of two German nationals who had been detained in Turkey for “political reasons” has been released.

“The lawyer of one of the affected people told us that he has now been freed, without restrictions,” said the German Foreign Ministry spokesman, adding that the ministry was still seeking independent confirmation of the release.

The detention of the two individuals, whose identities have not been disclosed, was announced on Sept. 1 by Berlin with great consternation.

Meanwhile, the European Commission stated that President Jean-Claude Juncker said the Turkish people should understand that it is the Turkish government that has put the accession process in doubt, noting that suspending Ankara’s EU talks was up to member states.

In the German presidential debate, apart from Turkey, Merkel and Shulz also clashed over the North Korean issue, with Schulz accusing the U.S. president of “bringing the world to the brink of crisis with his tweets” and said Germany should work with its European partners, Canada, Mexico and Trump’s domestic U.S. opponents.

Merkel responded by deploying her credentials as a global stateswoman, saying she had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron about North Korea on Sept. 3 and would talk to Trump as well as leaders from Russia, China, Japan and South Korea in the coming days.

“I don’t think that one can solve this conflict without the American president,” she said. 

“But I think one must say in the clearest terms that for us, there can only be a peaceful diplomatic solution,” Merkel said.

During the debate, Schulz also attacked Merkel for failing to coordinate a better European response to the refugee crisis in 2015, when her decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing war in the Middle East, cost her support. 

“The inclusion of our European neighbors would have been better,” Schulz said. 

Merkel shot back: “We had a very dramatic situation then ... There are times in the life of a chancellor when she has to decide.”

The German chancellor’s show of experience appeared to work with voters. She was some 14 points ahead of Martin Schulz in opinion polls before the debate. A survey by Infratest Dimap for ARD television showed her overall performance was viewed as more convincing by 55 percent, compared to 35 percent for Schulz. 

The ARD poll showed that 49 percent of those surveyed viewed Merkel as being more credible, while 29 percent favored Schulz.

September/04/2017

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