BERLIN Germany and Turkey summoned each other's ambassadors on Friday for tit-for-tat reproaches in an escalating row over Chancellor Angela Merkel's criticism of a crackdown on protesters in Turkey and her reluctance to see the country join the European Union.
After Merkel said she was "appalled" by Ankara's response to the protests, a Turkish cabinet minister accused her on Thursday of blocking Turkey's accession to the EU because she was "looking for domestic political material for her elections".
Berlin responded on Friday by summoning the Turkish envoy to the German foreign ministry - and Turkey retaliated.
Barring a last-minute change of heart by Germany, the EU looks set early next week to postpone or cancel plans to open a new "chapter" in Turkey's membership talks next Wednesday.
Such a move would cast doubt on the future of Turkey's long-running negotiations to join the EU and a senior Turkish official has said it would draw a "strong reaction" from Ankara.
Many EU countries support the opening of more negotiations with Turkey next week on its long path to membership. They argue that Turkey's fast-growing economy, youthful population and diplomatic clout would bolster the EU.
But Germany has criticized Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's forceful response to weeks of anti-government protests and appears to be refusing to agree to open a new negotiation area, potentially the first such step in three years.
Merkel's conservatives oppose Turkish EU membership in their platform for September's election, saying it would "overburden" the bloc because of the country's size and economy, though Merkel has stopped short of calling a halt to accession talks.
"Neither the chancellor nor the government are questioning the accession process in any way. We are not talking about 'whether', just about 'how', to continue the accession process," German deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said the Turkish minister's comments were "unacceptable" and Ankara's envoy to Berlin had been summoned for consultations in the afternoon.
Turkey reacted by summoning the German envoy to Ankara, with a senior Turkish official telling Reuters: "We want to convey our views on recent developments."
As the tension between Berlin and Ankara increased, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said it was not the moment to close the door on Turkey, but she made no direct reference to Germany.
"From this perspective, we must bring dynamism to the negotiating process and avoid giving into a knee-jerk reaction that hardens positions with regard to the line adopted by Turkish authorities," she said in a statement.
"If we make the mistake of complicating Ankara's road towards Europe, tomorrow we will have a Europe that is less credible on the international scene."
Germany's Peschke said Turkish accession talks had been held up for unspecified "technical reasons" rather than concerns about the crackdown, adding that the Dutch shared the German view. Chapter 22 of the talks deals with regional politics.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said this week he would like to see discussion of the chapters 23 and 24 that deal with civil rights, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. These have been blocked by other EU member states because of concerns about Turkey's record on human and civil rights.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Brown in Berlin, Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and James Mackenzie in Rome; Editing by Stephen Brown and Andrew Roche)