Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on German-Turkish relations and on the future of Europe. Published in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper (20 March 2017).
No end to the confrontation with Turkey is in sight – would you be prepared to forbid Turkish politicians from making campaign appearances in Germany?
I have enjoyed a long-standing and close affiliation with Turkey and greatly value the country and its people. I am therefore all the more annoyed by the unspeakable accusations and absurd comparisons that we have heard from Ankara in recent weeks. With this in mind, I made it quite clear to my Turkish counterpart that this crossed a line. We may be tolerant, but we’re not stupid. This is why we have told our Turkish partners most clearly that, if they want to campaign here, then they must stick to our laws. It won’t work otherwise. I at any rate don’t believe in a general prohibition on campaign appearances as some people are calling for, probably for political reasons.
We are a strong democracy and can take controversial discussions.
The Federation is helping to conduct the referendum in Germany. How is this in line with criticism of this plebiscite?
This referendum will set Turkey’s future course for many years to come. Why should we have an interest in denying those with Turkish roots in our country their right to vote in this decision of historic importance? And allow me to say something about German domestic policy, which is that some of the objections to holding the referendum in Germany appear to me to be quite arrogant and paternalistic. I would welcome a greater level of respect for the achievements of those of Turkish origin living in Germany.
What options does Europe have in terms of bringing its influence to bear on Ankara?
I don’t think much of threats. Trust is the most important currency in foreign policy. It’s easy to lose trust, but not easy to regain it. I set great store by honesty and credibility, however. This is why we haven’t held back in our criticism of domestic developments in Turkey. Anyone who puts critics behind bars and infringes the principles of the rule of law evidently doesn’t want to be part of our European community of shared values. However, we weren’t always honest with our partner in the past either. We offered them a privileged partnership whereas Turkey was working towards EU membership, for example. I know many Turkish people who are disappointed by this and who don’t want to feel like second-class Europeans.
“Die Welt” journalist Deniz Yücel is still being held on remand in Turkey. How do you rate the prospects for a solution in this case?
We are working at all levels to help Deniz Yücel. He’s one of our own. The Turkish Government’s promise of consular access must be swiftly backed up with action. It would be truly sobering should it turn out that we can no longer be able to count on the Turkish Prime Minister’s promise to the Federal Chancellor.
Europe seems more divided than at almost any time in the past. Why is a Europe with different speeds of integration a successful model for the future?
Europe has never moved at the same pace. In fact, it is incapable of doing so. The euro and Schengen are examples that show that it pays off when a few partners forge ahead. This is the only way to avoid stagnation as some aren’t ready yet. However, it’s important to keep the door open to everyone at all times. There must be no “first-” or “second-class” Europe. The EU is and remains our common project.
Interview conducted by Rasmus Buchsteiner