Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel is calling for “changes in both tone and substance” from the Turkish Government in order for tense relations with the Federal Republic to improve. He said that the way in which German detainees were being treated was unacceptable. Another topic raised was the kidnapping of a Vietnamese government critic. Published in the “Badische Zeitung” on 9 August 2017
Minister Gabriel, German nationals like the journalist Deniz Yücel or the human rights activist Peter Steudtner ending up in prison in Turkey are unfortunately no longer isolated cases. What about a Vietnamese government critic being abducted in the middle of Berlin and taken to Hanoi by the secret service? Is that really an isolated case?
The actions of the Vietnamese secret services on German soil are utterly unacceptable. I want to say this quite clearly: under no circumstances will we tolerate this kind of thing. Nor will we let it go. That is why we immediately decided to declare one of those responsible persona non grata.
The coup in Turkey took place just over a year ago. Do you see any sign that the Turkish President might move back to a more moderate, more democratic course in the near future or medium term?
The change of course in Turkey did not happen overnight. The failed coup was possibly more of a catalyst than a turning point for President Erdoğan’s policies. For years, we have been growing increasingly concerned at restrictions on the freedom of the press, the treatment of the Kurdish minority, and other things besides. As much as I wish I could say otherwise, I do not see any indication of a fundamental change in policy at the moment. We are prepared to extend a hand to Turkey. But if we are to make a fresh start, there need to be changes in Ankara, in both tone and substance.
What triggered the adjustment of Germany’s policy regarding Turkey?
The arbitrary arrest of Peter Steudtner, a respectable German, is simply completely unacceptable. We were forced to see that our patience and our readiness to engage in a fair dialogue have not yielded any fruit. On the contrary, it got worse each time. There are now nine Germans who have no idea what crimes they are being accused of or who are having to fight far‑fetched accusations. No‑one who treats Germans in this way can seriously expect us to carry on with our political and economic relations as if everything in the garden were rosy.
What impact does this have on EU accession talks?
At its core, the European Union is a community of shared values. Turkey has long wanted to become part of this community. But in that case it needs to accept our European values as its own and act accordingly. So it is up to Turkey to decide what path it wants to take: towards the West, towards Europe, with democracy and the rule of law, separation of powers, freedom of the press and freedom of opinion, or towards the East, a region rife with conflicts and tensions. I believe and hope that the people in Turkey know which decisions of historic import should best be taken for them and for their country.
Interview conducted by Bärbel Krauss