ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is “fed up” with European Union condescension in talks over its application to join the bloc, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday, reflecting Ankara’s exasperation with EU criticism over human rights.
Cavusoglu’s blunt comments, made as visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier looked on, also highlighted Turkey’s frustration with the fact that, after 11 years of negotiations, its prospects of joining the EU look more remote than ever.
“We are truly fed up of these statements degrading Turkey. The criteria are clear but there are double standards and a two-faced approach. This is what we don’t like,” Cavusoglu told a joint news conference.
The EU is treading a fine line in relations with Turkey: it needs Ankara’s continued help in curbing a huge flow of refugees and migrants, especially from Syria, but is alarmed by Turkey’s crackdown on opponents since the failure of a coup attempt in July.
Referring to an issue that could spell the end of Turkey’s accession bid, Cavusoglu said that the Turkish people would decide whether or not to reinstate the death penalty.
Steinmeier said he had expressed concern about mass arrests and the treatment of the media since the failed coup, but also that Germany supported its NATO partner in fighting terrorism.
“Turkey’s actions against opposition lawmakers and civil society, newspapers, radio and TV stations and countless teachers and bureaucrats do not conform to our constitutional standards, and they have long gone beyond the search for those responsible for the failed July 15 putsch,” he told reporters.
More than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended in the crackdown that followed the putsch, and some 36,000 arrested. Media outlets have also been shut down.
In Berlin, the head of Germany’s domestic spy agency on Tuesday rejected as “completely unjustified” Turkey’s charge that Germany is harbouring militants tied to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
“That accusation is completely unjustified. We have been working for many years to ensure that the PKK in Germany poses no danger to Germany or Turkey,” Hans-Georg Maassen told Reuters in an interview late on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday Cavusoglu said there were outstanding legal cases against 4,500 PKK members in Germany, but only three suspects had been sent back to Turkey so far.
More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK began its armed struggle in 1984 for autonomy for mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey. It is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
At one point during Tuesday’s awkward news conference in Ankara, a microphone was switched off as a German journalist tried to ask a question. “No freedom of media here, that’s why,” Cavusoglu joked caustically, in English.
Turkey has agreed to help control the flood of migrants into Europe in return for visa-free travel for Turks to Europe. But Brussels first wants Ankara to modify anti-terrorism laws that it says are too broad.
Turkey has repeatedly refused to change the laws, saying they are necessary to combat its multiple security threats.
“It cannot be expected for us to stop our fight against terror or take a step back,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told members of his ruling AK Party in parliament on Tuesday. “EU ambassadors cannot decide how the law will work in Turkey.”
The bitter rhetoric from Turkey has increased since the release of a highly critical EU report last week that made clear its prospects of joining the 28-nation bloc have become more distant. “The latest report published by the EU has both saddened and disturbed us,” Yildirim said.
Despite the problems, Steinmeier said he was against the EU breaking off accession talks with Turkey. Alluding to the tense atmosphere, he thanked Cavusoglu for “a conversation today that was not very easy”, but which he said had been open and honest.
Additional reporting by Ercan Gurses, Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Madeline Chambers and David Dolan; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones