German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said it clearly: she will seek to call off Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union.
Germany and Turkey have been at odds over Ankara’s crackdown on dissent since last year’s failed coup.
“The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” Merkel said during a TV debate with her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz.
“I’ll speak to my (EU) colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks,” she added.
Merkel however struck a more conciliatory tone than Schulz, who vowed to push for an end to the negotiations if he was elected chancellor in the September 24 federal election.
“I don’t want to break off diplomatic relations with Turkey just because we’re in an election campaign and want to show each other who is tougher,” she said.
Merkel also said it would be irresponsible to endanger ties with Turkey when a dozen German citizens are jailed there on political charges.
But for Schulz, the detentions alone are enough to justify halting accession talks.
“If German citizens whom are held in custody can no longer be assured that the German state can protect them in Turkey, because an autocratic ruler arbitrarily arrests people, then we have reached a point where Germany has to stop the accession negotiations,” he said.
A spokesman for Turkish President Erdogan accused the candidates of indulging in populism, and said he hoped relations between both countries would improve.
Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has long opposed Turkish membership in the European Union.
But the green light for membership talks was given months before Merkel became chancellor in 2005 and she has always said that she will respect that decision, referring to the negotiations as “open ended”.
But the accession talks have ground to a virtual halt as Turkey’s ties with Germany and several other EU states deteriorated sharply this year.
Points of dispute have included the barring of Turkish politicians from holding campaign rallies
in EU countries ahead of an April referendum, and concerns over the powers granted to Erdogan in the closely fought plebiscite.
Turkey has also restricted access for German parliamentarians seeking to visit German troops at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, leading Berlin to announce it was moving those forces out of Turkey. It has also detained several German nationals, including journalist Deniz Yucel.
Turkey says it has sent Germany an extradition request for one of the main suspects it says was behind an attempted military coup in July 2016. More than 50,000 people have been arrested and 150,000 have been suspended or sacked in a security crackdown since the failed putsch.