German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel published today that Turkey has never been less likely to join the European Union than now, as relations between Ankara and Berlin hit a low point.
“Today Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the European Union than ever before,” Gabriel said in the interview.
He also said that he always had doubts about whether Turkey should join the EU but found himself in the minority in his Social Democrat (SPD) party.
Before taking power in Germany in 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel was an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s membership and instead called for a “privileged partnership”.
Gabriel disliked that idea because he thought it would make Turks feel like second-class Europeans but he said his opinion had changed since Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
“Today the situation is totally different due to Brexit. We’d be well advised to bring about a ‘special relationship’ with Great Britain after its exit from the EU,” Gabriel said.
“That will be an important learning process for the EU and perhaps some of it can serve as a blueprint for other countries in the long term,” Gabriel said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is courting Turks abroad for support in a referendum due to be held on 16 April that would reform Turkey’s parliamentary democracy into an executive presidency, similar to the United States.
After Germany and the Netherlands appeared to be taking sides in Turkey’s internal affairs and the referendum process by banning rallies, events and even ministers from entering Turkish sovereign territory, Erdogan lashed out by describing both countries as “fascist” and “Nazi remnants”.
Gabriel said Erdogan was taking advantage of a sentiment many people of Turkish origin have in Germany that they are neither accepted nor welcomed, but failed to address why these European citizens of Turkish background may feel this way.
Europe has become increasingly Islamophobic and xenophobic, with racist sentiments and attacks against Muslims and non-white refugees, migrants and even naturalised citizens increasing at an alarming rate.
Gabriel said Germany should avoid reacting in kind to provocations from Turkey because that would only give Erdogan an enemy to direct his people’s ire toward, arguing that the Turkish president “needs a bogeyman for his campaign”.
He also warned Turkish politicians that they could be banned from holding rallies in Germany if they do not stick to German laws: “Whoever crosses these lines cannot expect to be allowed to propagate his political ideas here.”
However, there was never any indication that Turkey had breached any German laws, as the rallies were scheduled months in advance with the German authorities, yet were cancelled last minute for no apparent reason beyond minor concerns regarding “car parking facilities” and similar issues Turkey called trivial.