Worsening relations between Turkey and the EU have reached a new low, with German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel telling the Turks “we are patient but not stupid.”
Gabriel reportedly told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that some comments made by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan went too far, according to the daily Passauer Neue Presse.
The Vice Chancellor, who is also the leader of the Social Democrats in Germany, was referring to Erdogan when he lashed out at Germany last week during a rally where he likened German practices to Nazism.
“Germany, you have no relation whatsoever to democracy and you should know that your recent practices are no different than the Nazi ones of the past,” Erdogan said during a rally.
A German government spokesman reiterated on Monday Gabriel’s message, calling Erdogan’s comments as ‘unacceptable’ and urging Turkish officials to tone down their language.
“Nazi comparisons are unacceptable in any form,” the spokesman said.
Erdogan, who is rallying Turkish citizens to vote in favour of a new constitution in next month’s referendum, has been trying to reach to the 4.5 million Turks living in Europe who can also vote in Turkey.
A ‘yes’ vote in the referendum would essentially turn Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one, in what the government sees as an essential change to make the state work more effectively.
But critics fear consolidating power of three legislative bodies into one executive branch under Erdogan, citing lack of respect for democracy and a massive crackdown of journalists, academics, along with enemies of the government accused of taking part in a military coup in July 2016.
Politicians and MEPs have come out publicly saying Erdogan’s move was a drift towards authoritarianism, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel warning that this was ‘deeply problematic’ to Turkey’s cooperation with the EU.
Germany joins Austria, Holland and Switzerland, as all of them sought to foil Turkish attempts to hold rallies on their soil, citing overcrowding and security concerns.
The Dutch authorities barred Cavusoglu from landing in Rotterdam and Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, who had travelled by road to the Netherlands from neighbouring Germany, was stopped 30 metres from the Turkish consulate in the Dutch city and prevented from entering the building.
But political pundits see domestic politics in the recent spat, both in Turkey and Europe, citing the recent Dutch elections last week as well as German federal elections coming up in September, in addition to the April 16 referendum in Turkey.
Criticism of Turkey by Europeans predates the referendum, as MEPs and government officials in various capitals have been crying foul over Turkey’s anti-terror laws.
Europeans want Turkey to change anti-terror laws due to concerns over human rights, but Ankara says it is not budging on this issue, despite treatment of academics and journalists in Turkish prisons drawing harsh criticism around the world.
Europe also says there can be no visa-free travel to EU for Turkish nationals because of such issues, citing a long list of human rights violations in Turkey.
But disagreements rose to a new level as Turkey took steps to influence voters on EU soil, stepping up its rhetoric.
Gabriel told Cavusoglu that Erdogan’s recent comments on ‘Nazi practices’ had gone ‘far beyond any limits’, suggesting that the spat is turning into a prolonged and ugly diplomatic feud.
But Turkey is crying foul, saying members of the terror group Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) were protesting in Frankfurt waving their flags in favour of a ‘no’ vote next month.
Political pundits have said that having Erdogan’s government officials campaigning on European soil was a different issue than protest groups demonstrating against the Turkish government.
Gabriel, who called for a ban on Islamist mosques and tougher measures against Islamist trends in Germany, says he is promoting a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ in combating Islamism.
“Those who encourage violence do not enjoy the protection of religious freedom,” Gabriel told the German weekly Der Spiegel in January, following a terror attack in Berlin last year.