European Parliament head condemns Erdogan over German satire protest

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of the European Parliament sharply criticized Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday for protesting against a satirical song on German television that mocked the president just as the EU needs Ankara to help solve its migrant crisis.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz attends a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The broadcast and Turkey’s response has morphed into a diplomatic incident with Germany, France and the EU rejecting Ankara’s protests, which included Germany’s ambassador being to the Turkish foreign ministry.

The two-minute song, shown on “extra 3” last month, poked fun at Erdogan for his authoritarian treatment of journalists.

The spat is particularly awkward for German Chancellor Angela Merkel who led efforts to get a migrant deal between the EU and Turkey. Critics question whether the deal will make Germany and the EU go soft on Turkish human rights because they are so dependent on Ankara to stem the influx of migrants.

In unusually strong language, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said it was “not acceptable that the president of another country demanded Germany limits democratic rights because he felt caricatured”.

“We must make clear to Erdogan: we have democracy in our country. That’s the end of it ... politicians must live with satire, even the Turkish president,” Schulz, a Social Democrat, told Bild am Sonntag.

“Dear Mr Erdogan, you have gone one step too far. You can’t do this. Satire is a basic element of democratic culture.”

German newspapers have in the last week castigated Erdogan for trying to muzzle the media here.

Under the headline “The dreadful friend”, Der Spiegel weekly ran a cover illustration of a red-faced Erdogan shaking his fist with a newspaper folded into a paper airplane in his back pocket. Merkel, carrying a suitcase of EU cash, stands at his feet with her head in her hand.

The deal, which is due to take effect on Monday, is aimed at stopping illegal migrants entering Europe in exchange for financial and political rewards for Ankara.

Schulz denied accusations it makes the EU too reliant on Turkey, a candidate for EU membership. “The EU is not dependent on Turkey,” he told Bild am Sonntag.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade and has been president since 2014. Popular at home, his critics accuse him of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Turkish state prosecutors have opened nearly 2,000 cases against people for insulting Erdogan since 2014, the country’s justice ministry said last month. Defendants include cartoonists, academics, journalists and even schoolchildren.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Susan Fenton