Germany-Turkey tensions flare over EU bid

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Published June 21, 2013

| AFP

Amid a sharp spike in tensions between Turkey and the EU, Berlin and Ankara summoned each other's ambassadors in tit-for-tat moves Friday as fresh obstacles to the Turkish bid to join the bloc emerged.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called the envoy to his offices "due to remarks from Turkish officials toward Germany", a ministry spokesman said, leading Ankara to later threaten consequences over the row.

Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis had fumed Thursday that German reluctance to open a new chapter in EU accession talks was linked to Chancellor Angela Merkel's "election campaign".

"That is unacceptable," the German spokesman, Andreas Peschke, told reporters.

"These remarks met with great disbelief here. We will make our position abundantly clear."

But Ankara immediately fired back, saying it was planning to send for the German envoy to get an "explanation" of the summons in Berlin, a Turkish diplomat said.

In a statement released on Friday evening, Bagis said Turkey was "disappointed" by Berlin's attitude and "regretted" its move to summon the envoy.

"We have been disappointed by Germany's stance of preventing the opening of this Chapter to negotiations. We feel that our sincerity makes it necessary for us to express our disappointment.

"We also regret to note the intolerance and misinterpretation of our sincere reminders by our German friends, who unfairly criticise Turkey regarding the freedom of expression," he said.

Earlier Bagis warned that Germany would face consequences if Merkel did not lift her resistance.

"I hope she corrects the mistake she has made by Monday... or this will lead to reactions," he told reporters.

He had urged earlier this week that "Merkel should consider the benefit of some 4,000 German businesses in Turkey".

Bagis had reacted angrily to news from Brussels Thursday that EU member states failed to reach the necessary consensus on opening a new negotiating chapter with Turkey next week, which could have marked an upswing in ties.

Diplomats said that Germany and the Netherlands expressed "reservations" at the closed-door talks between EU ambassadors.

Bagis on Thursday had placed the blame squarely on Germany, the EU's top economy with the world's largest Turkish emigrant community as well as Ankara's biggest trade partner.

"If Merkel is looking for material for her election campaign, it should not be Turkey," Bagis told reporters, referring to the general election in Germany slated for September.

Bagis said Turkey's negotiation process would not come to an end "over a politician's remarks" unless there is a unanimous decision to block Turkey's accession.

Turkey's membership talks officially started in 2005 but so far only one out of 35 chapters has been closed, mainly due to disagreements over Cyprus, which joined the bloc in 2004, as well as serious German doubts about the bid.

The dispute comes amid mounting tensions over Turkey's violent crackdown on protests in major cities.

Merkel said Monday that she was shocked by the authorities' response, calling it "much too harsh".

Peschke said there was "no direct link" between Ankara's handling of the demonstrations and the EU negotiations because the chapter in question dealt with "technical issues", but he confirmed that Germany "and other countries" had expressed reservations on Thursday.

And he noted that "of course accession negotiations take place in a political context".

In February Merkel indicated she backed the opening of the new chapter, while warning that she was "sceptical" about the outcome of the negotiations.

Her deputy spokesman Georg Streiter insisted Friday that neither Merkel nor her government "is questioning the accession process".

"This is not about whether but rather how to move forward with the accession process," he said.

He added that the EU wanted to continue working together with Turkey "also in the area of human rights".

However the leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats' parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, said Friday that the crackdown could have serious consequences for Turkey's EU ambitions.

"I can only warn (Ankara) against sending in the military" against protesters, he told the daily Die Welt in an interview to be published Saturday.

"That would push Turkey light years away from Europe. Then the EU would have to suspend accession negotiations."

The Turkish government threatened this week to send in troops if the demonstrations, which have left four people dead and thousands wounded, continued.

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