“The EU must continue speaking to Turkey with one voice.”

08.11.2016 - Interview

Interview with Minister of State for Europe Roth in the newspaper “Die Welt” on current developments in Turkey (8 November 2016)

Interview with Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth in the newspaper “Die Welt” on current developments in Turkey (8 November 2016)


Turkey is locking up the opposition leader and journalists, closing down newspapers, arresting members of parliament, firing academics, and would like to reinstate capital punishment – and the West is doing nothing. Isn’t that the case?

What is happening right now in Turkey is in no way compatible with our European values, or with our understanding of the rule of law, democracy and freedom of the press. That is why our response to the Turkish Government is absolutely clear: That’s not how it works!

And yet the signal being sent by the European Union is not at all clear. Is that because, in some Member States, authoritarian politicians in the mould of Erdogan are holding sway?

The EU must continue speaking to Turkey with one voice. It must not allow itself to be divided. After all, Turkey still wants to become a member of the EU. Against the background of current events, it must explain how this could be accomplished. Ankara knows very well that reinstatement of the death penalty will lead to the suspension of EU accession negotiations.

Was it not recently hoped that the capital punishment issue would soon be dropped?

A few weeks ago, I participated in a discussion in the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg with the Turkish Foreign Minister. He expressed his clear commitment to our European values. Reinstatement of the death penalty is definitely not one of these values. Now the Turkish President must decide whether he wishes to continue down the path towards Europe, or whether he will turn away from Europe.

On Wednesday, the so-called progress report on accession negotiations between the EU and Turkey is due to be presented. What do you expect? Could this be the first-ever retrogression report?

The European Commission will indeed present a negative report, but it will not be the first time it does so. The last report was highly critical, as well. The Commission will make a level-headed, very clear and very critical assessment of what is going badly in Turkey – or not progressing at all. Unfortunately, it’s quite a long list.

Level-headedness is a good thing in politics. But which red lines would the Turkish Government still need to cross for the EU to decide to break off negotiations with Ankara?

It’s easy to call for an end to accession negotiations. Ending talks is simple. Talking with Ankara during these troubled times is far more difficult. Particularly Germany, a country that has three million inhabitants with Turkish roots, should press for continuation of the talks. Otherwise, we will lose the opportunity for an open, frank and honest exchange of views with our counterparts.

Is the call to end negotiations not perfectly justified?

Well, who would actually suffer if talks were now to be completely broken off? Such a step would more than anything leave in the lurch those Turks who are Western-oriented. There is a large part of Turkish society that is still pro-European and that places great hope in the EU. We must not disappoint these people, they have enough trouble in Turkey as it is.

Is it not bizarre for the EU to still be conducting accession negotiations with a government that since the attempted coup has closed some 155 news media outlets via emergency decrees?

Negotiations are indeed not going well. We are not opening any new chapters. But I remain convinced that the EU should not turn away from Turkey, because this will not improve anything in the country, but rather make many things worse.

Is Turkey in the process of doing away with its parliamentary democracy?

The way opposition members of parliament are being treated is unacceptable. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should know that it is the power of law that prevails, not the law of the powerful. This must also apply to Turkey.

Erdogan is using the state of emergency that has been proclaimed to solidify his claim that might makes right.

Turkey has a legitimate right to follow up on the attempted coup, but only with full respect for the rule of law. I greatly doubt whether this is being adhered to in all necessary activities following the coup.

Erdogan says he does not care if the West calls him a “dictator or whatever else”...

We shouldn’t reduce Turkey to a single politician. The President is not the entire country. Turkey is colourful and diverse, and Turks in part do have a highly critical view of him. In Turkey, I regularly meet with many young people in particular who want to remain a part of our European community of values.

Jean Asselborn, the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, gave an interview on Deutschlandfunk in which he said the methods that are being used in Turkey are like “those that were used during Nazi rule.”

As a German, I have a very hard time accepting any comparison with the darkest chapter of our history.

What can the Federal Government and the EU do to defend the right to freedom of opposition politicians, academics and journalists in Turkey who are being harassed?

All critically-minded people in Turkey should know that the Federal Government stands by them. At the Federal Foreign Office, as well, we are right now working on how this can be done.

What are you thinking of doing?

Various programmes are already in place, and these are also open to Turkish academics and journalists.

Is Germany prepared to take in politicians, journalists and artists who are being oppressed in Turkey?

That is up to the competent authorities to decide. However, Germany is a globally-minded country, and we are in principle open to everyone who is being politically persecuted. They can apply for asylum in Germany. This certainly applies not only to journalists. That is why we have the right to asylum.

Is visa-free travel for Turkey, as a concession for the refugee deal between the EU and Erdogan, a non-starter?

There seems to be a great misunderstanding here. The EU was not in a position to offer the easing of visa requirements as a concession for the refugee agreement. There are simply a number of criteria that must be met, and these were clear long before the agreement. Many criteria have been met, and a few have not, for example the necessary reform of laws on terrorism. Until these have been reformed, there will be no visa-free travel.

Erdogan is using these controversial laws on terrorism to fight his opponents...

States of emergency can only be imposed for a very short period of time. At least that is the case in a democracy. We expect the state of emergency to be lifted soon.

Prior to the refugee deal, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) made several trips to Turkey to meet with Erdogan. Isn’t such a visit, one that sends a clear message, more necessary now than ever?

I wish that quite a few people had made earlier and more regular trips to Turkey. In the past, Germany should have sent clearer signals regarding its great interest in a European-minded Turkey. Today, there are more issues than ever that need to be discussed with Ankara, and this is not limited to the topics of refugees and human rights. It would be good for everyone to try and exert what influence they can.

You expect the Chancellor to do more than she has done?

I want all of us in the EU to show greater interest, engage in more dialogue, and pose more critical questions. What is more, Ankara takes Germany seriously. In Turkey there are, justifiably, two views. Firstly, some Europeans took an interest in the country only when the refugee agreement was negotiated, because Turkey was then urgently needed. Secondly, Turks would have liked to have seen a little more solidarity and sympathy with the people of Turkey after the coup. We must accept these criticisms.

When will your next trip to Turkey be?

As soon as possible. And I expect my Turkish counterpart to visit me soon in Germany. He said he intends to do this.

Mr Erdogan has described Germany as a “safe haven” for terrorists. In response, does the Federal Government continue to consider Turkey a “partner”?

Our Foreign Minister made a clear statement about this erroneous claim.

Do you still consider Turkey to be a partner?

Turkey is a very difficult partner.

Interview conducted by: Daniel Friedrich Sturm.

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