In an interview with the Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks about German-Turkish relations and Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union. Published on 7 July 2013.
It seems that recent events in Turkey have dented political relations between Germany and Turkey? How badly have they been dented?
I can’t deny that there were tensions between ourselves and our Turkish partners and that there were open issues which had to be clarified with the EU and with Ankara. We did that and found a good and practicable way to resolve matters in a difficult situation. That shows our relations can be constructive and open. Naturally, that’s all the easier if we talk to each other in a rational manner.
Will relations return to normal quickly?
Our ties with Turkey are exceptionally diverse and broad-based. They comprise literally millions of interpersonal ties, the decades-long security partnership in NATO as well as the accession negotiations with the EU. Given my good relationship with my colleague Ahmet Davutoğlu, I’m certain that our ties are so close that they can withstand both difficult periods and differences of opinion.
The demonstrators in Gezi Park occupied Taksim Square for almost three weeks. The Turkish Government reacted with a large-scale police operation. What would you have expected from the Turkish Government in such a situation?
We made clear our expectation that the Turkish Government would show a readiness to engage in dialogue and try to de-escalate the situation. Every democratic country with a vibrant civil society knows the challenge of reacting appropriately to demonstrations. Our European values such as the rule of law and plurality provide us with a clear guiding principle: respect for freedom of expression, of the press and of assembly. This also means the proportionate use of state force. Criminal proceedings concerning individual cases of misconduct on the part of either the security forces or protesters must meet rule-of-law standards.
And what reaction would you have expected from the Turkish Government once the demonstrations were over and what do you expect now?
In modern societies, the dialogue with civil society is an ongoing, indeed a daily task. Democracy is about more that conducting free and fair elections. The need for exchange between state and society remains. I would advise the Turkish Government to take the issues raised seriously. It would be damaging if people had cause to be afraid of dialogue.
How, in your opinion, have the events in Gezi Park influenced Turkey’s image abroad?
We’ve seen that an ever more vibrant civil society is emerging in Turkey. The considerable progress in the democratization process during the last few years is partly down to President Erdogan’s Government. We hope Turkey has the courage to continue along this path.
There are parallels between Stuttgart 21 – the demonstrations against the construction of a new railway station in Stuttgart – and the Gezi Park demonstrations. There were mass protests in Stuttgart, too. The police also reacted harshly in Schlossgarten. Some 400 people were injured during the violent police operations. One demonstrator was blinded following the deployment of water cannon. What, in your view, is the difference between Stuttgart 21 and Gezi Park in Taksim?
Germany has a self-confident civil society which sometimes makes itself heard loud and clear and calls into question decisions which have been made democratically. Any incidents where state forces fail to react to protests appropriately and in a manner conducive to de-escalation must be dealt with in compliance with the rule of law. On the political front, there were tireless – indeed exhaustive – mediation efforts and ultimately a referendum was held on the Stuttgart 21 project. Stuttgart central station is now being constructed with the consent of the majority of citizens.
The Turkish Government has the impression that Germany was on the side of the demonstrators in the Gezi Park affair. It was displeased when Chancellor Merkel commented that she had been shocked by some images from Turkey. You, Mr Westerwelle, said you were disappointed by Turkey’s reaction. Could you describe your disappointment in more detail?
During the last few years, Turkey has undergone a remarkable development and has become an economic powerhouse and a major political player with influence throughout the entire region. However, modernity not only takes the form of growth figures but also social tolerance and pluralism. I hope that Turkey’s legitimate self-confidence will enable it to create an even more open and modern society. I’m concerned when I see unnecessarily tough rhetoric and polarization rather than level-headedness and efforts to de-escalate.
A new chapter in EU negotiations was due to be opened with Turkey on 26 June. But this was blocked by Germany. Then a compromise was found and the continuation of negotiations postponed until the autumn. What difference does it make whether negotiations begin in June or in the autumn? And what kind of message is the EU sending to the Turkish Government with this postponement?
The message is clear: Europe has a strategic interest in closer ties with Turkey. The EU has therefore given the go-ahead for accession negotiations to be continued. We even want to accelerate the talks about the rule of law and democracy, which are core issues. At the same time, we couldn’t ignore the events of the last few weeks. It’s therefore only right to wait for the European Commission’s annual progress report. On that basis, we can then tackle the next steps in the autumn.
Which steps do you now expect Turkey to take?
By stating its desire to join the EU, Turkey has demonstrated its aspiration to become a full member of the European community of values. Our expectations, as well as the progress of the accession negotiations, hinge on this will.
Mr Westerwelle, you appeared to be particularly keen to maintain relations between Turkey and the EU. Why are you so committed?
We have very close relations with Turkey. I’ve lost count of the number of talks I’ve had with Turkish colleagues. Our relations not only deal with bilateral issues but, ever more frequently, also security issues in the Middle East, as well as economic and energy cooperation. What matters is that our relations are based on trust and that we’re not afraid to address difficult issues.
You’ve said time and again that you’re delighted with the rapid and positive developments. Have recent developments in Turkey dampened your enthusiasm?
Turkey is a dynamic country with great opportunities for its go-getting young population. I’m confident that the Turkish Government will continue to take its commitment to European values seriously.
Are you concerned that Turkey may be moving away from Europe and turning increasingly to Islam?
Adhering to any given religion and moving closer to Europe aren’t mutually exclusive. What matters are democracy, human and civil rights, political, economic and social participation – religious tolerance, too, but no particular religion as such.
This interview, conducted by Celal Özkan, was published in Turkish in Hürriyet.