Merkel harming EU credibility over Turkey, minister says

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s European Union minister accused Germany on Thursday of harming EU credibility by trying to dictate policy towards Ankara, after Chancellor Angela Merkel said there would be no expansion of a customs union or deepening in EU-Turkish ties.

Turkey's Minister for EU Affairs Omer Celik reacts during an interview with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey, March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Relations between Turkey and European Union countries have deteriorated sharply after a series of disputes linked to Turkey’s crackdown in the wake of last year’s failed coup attempt, in which 250 people were killed.

Tensions with Germany are particularly acute because Turkish authorities detained several German nationals including a journalist and a rights activist. Germany is also withdrawing forces from Turkey’s Incirlik air base after Ankara restricted access to German politicians.

Turkey formally remains a candidate to join the European Union but Merkel said on Wednesday that no new chapters in accession talks were being opened and aid to Turkey had been cut to a minimum. There would be no expansion in the customs union, she said, and “no kind of deepening at all” in relations.

Turkey’s European Union minister Omer Celik said Merkel’s comments were unfortunate and damaging.

“We should emphasize that no EU member should give orders to EU institutions or EU processes,” he told a news conference in Ankara. “These situations are very dangerous, they represent statements that harm the EU’s credibility.”

Celik said both Turkey and the European Union would gain from updating the customs union. “But they are acting as if doing so is a favor to Turkey. Let me be very clear, we are in no rush,” he said.

Germany, Europe’s leading power, has toughened its stance towards Turkey in recent weeks, urging citizens to exercise caution if traveling there and threatening measures that could hinder German investment.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says the post-coup crackdown, in which 50,000 people have been detained and 150,000 sacked or suspended from the judiciary, journalism, academia and other sectors was needed to address deep-seated security threats.

Domestic and foreign critics accuse him of using a state of emergency as cover to root out opposition and strengthen his grip on power.


Celik called on Berlin to cooperate with Turkey’s request for the extradition of Adil Oksuz, a theology lecturer suspected of playing a major role in the failed coup.

Turkish authorities say Oksuz was detained near an air base hours after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, only to be released by a judge two days later. He has been on the run since.

Turkish media have reported that he has been seen in Frankfurt and Ulm and given a temporary residence permit by Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg state.

“No ally of ours can harbor a killer,” Celik said. “Even the possibility of someone with a clear tie to the coup attempt being harbored by our ally is saddening.”

Germany’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the Turkish request would be examined by a German judge before the German government could make a decision on the request.

Celik repeated Turkey’s complaint that it submitted thousands of files to Germany and requested suspects to be handed over without any response from Berlin.

“The Oksuz issue is very clear. We are allies with Germany, allied countries. We expect an attitude that is fitting of our level of cooperation,” he said.

The justice ministers of the two countries spoke by phone for an hour on Thursday, Turkey’s justice ministry said. It described the conversation as “very productive and positive”, but gave no details.

Germany has dismissed accusations that it is not cooperating with Ankara’s requests.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Dominic Evans