Speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier to the German Bundestag on the situation in Turkey
Fellow members of this House,
Our world didn’t get any simpler the night before last. Instead, many people are more concerned now – and at a time when the world truly has enough to worry about. One of these worries is the situation that has been escalating in Turkey for months, and which is the subject of our discussions today. I would like to thank the parliamentary groups of the Bundestag for providing the initiative for this debate. In view of recent developments, I consider this to be right and proper, and not only because we want to spell out our concerns – about waves of dismissals, arrests and repressive measures – but also because we must consider the consequences that they have for our actions. I would welcome it if we were able to resist the temptation to oversimplify this matter – either with personal prejudices or stereotypes concerning Turkey or Erdogan, or along the lines of “I knew that all along”. Simple solutions, which are already something of a rarity, are simply not on the cards when it comes to Turkey!
I suggest that we start by acknowledging that Turkey is going through turbulent and dangerous times. And this is not something that we are experiencing here in Germany in the first instance, but is something that, above all, affects the people in Turkey. Many people in the country are suffering as a result of the tensions and are concerned about the direction that their country is taking. A great many of our fellow citizens in Germany have relatives, family and friends in Turkey, and it goes without saying that the unrest in Turkey is still closer to home for them – and they are suffering too. Members of this House, let us therefore start by closing ranks in our expression of solidarity. We Germans stand at the side of the Turkish people, and we want to do what we can to shore up the country’s democracy.
These are dangerous times for Turkey in several respects. The most serious conflicts of our age are raging right on Turkey’s external borders. Meanwhile, Turkey is hosting around three million Syrian refugees. The nation’s internal tensions remain unresolved, the attempts to achieve reconciliation in recent years lie in ruins, and attempts to reach out to the Kurdish southeast have been abandoned. Then, in July, Turkey was rocked by an attempted coup, an attack on the heart of Turkish democracy – mercifully, this attempt quickly failed! We mourn the victims of the coup, and we admire the many courageous people in Turkey who defended their country’s constitution that night! And, of course, there is the terrorist threat. So‑called Islamic State has carried out attacks in Turkey on several occasions in recent months that have claimed too many human lives, including those of eleven Germans in Istanbul at the beginning of this year. And many more people in Turkey are now living in constant fear of the vile weaponry of terror.
Our position is clear and unambiguous. We condemn the attempted coup. What happened must be investigated, both politically and with the force of the law – there is no question about that. We condemn terrorism of any kind and are combating terrorist structures, including the PKK, with all means available under the rule of law. This was and continues to be our position, and this is why I not only fail to understand the public allegations made by my Turkish counterpart, but also reject them in the strongest possible terms!
However, if we analyse the current upheavals in Turkey, then we must also ask ourselves whether what we are observing now, whether the groups of people who are being persecuted at the moment, really have anything to do with the attempted coup or with terrorism – and, above all, we must ask ourselves whether the Turkish Government’s actions are commensurate with the minimum standards of rule‑of‑law procedures. This is another matter that we want to address in our debate today, and we are prepared to take issue with Turkey about this if need be.
To my mind, all of the crises and upheavals that Turkey is going through ultimately point to one thing, which is that the country is standing at a crossroads. This is about the direction it intends to take: towards Europe – or away from Europe; towards democracy based on the rule of law, including a respected parliamentary opposition – or away from it.
I believe that we should send a clear signal to Turkey at these crossroads. We stand for a close bond between Europe and Turkey. We want there to be a close bond between Europe and Turkey. And when I consider the crises and conflicts in Turkey’s neighbourhood, then I, as Foreign Minister, wish to say quite openly that we need a close bond between Europe and Turkey! And if we cast a sober glance at the facts, then this bond with Europe, or so I believe, is also in Turkey’s own interests – whether we’re talking about economic links with Europe and Germany or about security, particularly in NATO.
However, fellow members of this House, as clear as these facts and as clear as our signals may be, responsibility for the direction that the country takes lies in Turkey, and nowhere else! Recent weeks have, unfortunately, shown that decisions and measures taken by the Turkish leadership – and also the escalation of the rhetoric against its closest partners – point in a different direction. While we wish to entertain good relations with Turkey, the reality on the ground has changed, and we must align our policies accordingly.
I believe that there are two sides to this. Firstly, we will not absolve the political leadership of its responsibility. We are continuing, and particularly now, to seek dialogue with the Government – and we will even intensify this dialogue. I am due to travel to Ankara for political talks next Tuesday. And the concerns about what is happening in Turkey not only have implications for our bilateral relations, but also for the many international institutions that we are members of together with Turkey. These issues should be discussed at this level too. After all, many of these international alliances are not just coalitions of the willing, but coalitions of values – such as the Council of Europe, of course, and also undoubtedly NATO. If we want to ensure that Turkey shoulders responsibility, then we must also use these forums – and, yes, also for the controversial debates in order to, at the very least, make our standpoint crystal clear to Turkey! This is why it is also important in this regard to say something about relations with the EU. Of course, the easiest way to garner applause as a politician is to proclaim the end to the accession negotiations every time a microphone is thrust into your hands. But is that clever? Should we really be the ones to slam the door shut now? It is clear, however, that if Turkey should reintroduce capital punishment, then that would, without any shadow of doubt, spell an end to the negotiations. But at the same time, I know that if we slam the door shut now and throw away the key, then we will disappoint many people in Turkey who are looking to us right now for help and who are holding out to receive support. This is why I think that this wouldn’t be our smartest move.
Dialogue with the political leadership is one side of the coin. The other is civil society. If civil society is threatened in its very existence, then democracy is also endangered. This is what our experience has shown. We Germans in particular know how inestimably important freedoms guaranteed by the rule law are for journalism, culture and academia – and how dangerous it is when these face incessant restriction! This is why I wish today to propose a package of measures to help strengthen Turkish civil society. Firstly, we want to try to help persecuted academics, culture professionals and journalists who are no longer able to pursue their professions in Turkey to continue their work here in Germany. To this end, we intend to increase the level of funding for Philipp Schwartz Initiative scholarships for Turkish researchers considerably, and we are also looking, together with the German cultural and media scene, to create opportunities for Turkish journalists and culture professionals. Secondly, we are seeking to promote exchanges among young people and intend to increase the financial support enjoyed by the German-Turkish Youth Bridge greatly. Thirdly, we intend to free up scope for civil society – we intend to revitalise the Ernst Reuter Initiative and to encourage the Goethe-Institut to open up a civil society centre in Diyarbakir, in what is a predominantly Kurdish region, as well as to replicate this model in Izmir and Gaziantep. Fourthly, we intend to help ensure that independent and varied media reporting stands a chance in Turkey – we are supporting diverse media projects such as the news portal Eurotopic, which reports on current European debates in Turkish. And, finally, we are going to take advantage of our role as guest country of the International Istanbul Book Fair to stand up, especially in Turkey, for the freedom of expression and for the protection of art and artists. This package of measures for civil society is just as essential a part of our efforts as intensive dialogue and critical discussions with the political leadership. I will continue to draw on both of these approaches on my trip to Ankara next week.
Members of this House,
When I, at the end of my speech, take the wider view once more – from Turkey to the centrifugal forces here at home in the European Union, and, of course, to the elections in America that I mentioned earlier – then it is true that we may have many causes for concern. However, our own standpoint should be all the more firm. We know which values we hold dear and, above all, which political culture we want to preserve. Nothing good has ever come of polarisation or radicalisation. This is the message that we are sending to our friends in Turkey. The ball is still in Ankara’s court, however.