Germany's Social Democrats target Merkel in Turkey airbase row

Germany's Social Democrats target Merkel in Turkey airbase row

BERLIN - Reuters
Germanys Social Democrats target Merkel in Turkey airbase row

AFP photo

Germany's Social Democrats raised pressure on conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 21, saying if she could not resolve a row with Turkey over access to the İncirlik air base, German troops should move.

Merkel's defense minister, tacitly admitting the possibility said she had been looking for other locations and hinted that Jordan could be one.

Turkey, which has refused permission for German lawmakers to visit their troops at İncirlik, has said Berlin is free to move its soldiers from the base. That would, however, be a significant snub to a NATO ally.

Already strained bilateral ties have deteriorated further over İncirlik where roughly 250 German soldiers are stationed as part of the coalition against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.

"If Mrs Merkel doesn't succeed at the NATO summit on Thursday to get Turkey to change course, we need alternative bases," Thomas Oppermann, head of the SPD parliamentary group told Bild am Sonntag.

The SPD, or Social Democrats, trail Merkel's conservatives in polls four months before the national election. It is desperate to score points with voters on issues other than social justice, its main focus in the last couple of months which has so far failed to resonate.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is looking at alternatives, including Jordan and Cyprus, and said on May 20 that she had been impressed with a possible base in Jordan but stressed the government had not yet made a decision.

Merkel is vulnerable on relations with Turkey as critics accuse her of cosying up to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who last month won enhanced powers in the April 16 referendum, as she needs his help to control the flow of migrants to western Europe.

The SPD, junior partner in Merkel's right-left coalition,  also tried at the weekend to raise its profile on European issues.

Leader Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, has tried to ally himself with new pro-EU French President Emmanuel Macron and on May 29 that said he would model his campaign on the Frenchman's. 

On May 21 he told a rally in Bavaria it was time for a "new German-French initiative for a socially fair Europe of growth." 

A week after a disastrous election defeat in Germany's most populous state, an Emnid poll showed the gap widening between Merkel's conservatives, up 1 percentage point at 38 percent, and the SPD, down 1 point at 26 percent.