“This will hopefully give the Turkish Government pause for thought”

14.09.2017 - Interview

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in an interview with the “Kölner Stadtanzeiger” on 14 September 2017.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in an interview with the “Kölner Stadtanzeiger” on 14 September 2017.


How do you intend to get the Germans detained in Turkey out of jail?

For one thing, it is important that we gain consular access to them in the first place so that we know how those who have been detained are faring. While Turkey has an obligation under international law to grant access, we keep on having to fight for it. But even with consular access, we still don’t know how to get our German citizens released. This is why we are bringing all our diplomatic and political tools to bear to make progress. I spoke to Mr Erdogan myself about this when I visited Ankara. Just talking about the issue hasn’t brought us any closer to a solution. We have now made it plain to Ankara that we cannot go on like this. We are piling on the pressure. We can make cutbacks to economic assistance, halt deliveries of arms and protest via diplomatic channels. This will hopefully give the Turkish Government pause for thought and, at some point, make it act. On the other hand, I have no intention whatsoever of tampering with our cultural agreements. On the contrary, I would even intensify them in order to strengthen those in Turkey who are not on Erdogan’s side.

Meanwhile, Deniz Yücel and all the others are still behind bars.

It is terrible to be imprisoned as an innocent person and to be utterly at the mercy of the authorities. And people are being arrested out of the blue, apparently even on the strength of denunciations and, at any rate, without telling those affected what they are being charged with. In Germany, we have orderly procedures, access to files on the part of lawyers, deadlines, appeals, habeas corpus. Each and every detainee has inviolable rights. Not so in Turkey, however. I imagine that the mere uncertainty must be incredibly difficult to bear. What is happening to me? What do they want from me? Will I ever get out of here? Only the problem is that the more often we talk about this, the more you write about this, the greater the risk that Deniz Yücel and the other Germans will be locked away for even longer.

Have there been any developments with regard to the case of “pilgrim” David B. from Schwerin, some of whose family lives in Cologne? He has been detained in Turkey for almost six months – no reason for this has been disclosed.

We are taking care of this case. You’ll forgive me for saying that it’s neither helpful nor is it in the interests of the person in question to discuss further details in public.

It would perhaps be easier to get Mr Erdogan to change course if greater support from the EU were forthcoming.

Indeed! Relations with Germany in Europe are certainly ambivalent. On the one hand, our partners respect our democratic freedoms, stability and economic success. On the other, they have, for years, seen for example Angela Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble pointing the finger at them and telling them what to do. It comes as no surprise that some people in Europe fold their arms and tell us: “You’re not helping us in the fight against youth unemployment and the economic crisis. You can deal with your Turkey problem on your own, thank you very much! And if you want to pile economic pressure on them, then fine! You’re rich – you can afford to do that. We can’t. We want to have good relations with Ankara, and we’re not going to put them at risk on your behalf.” Perhaps the biggest mistake that Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble made was to abet this increasing division in Europe. Helmut Kohl would never have countenanced such a thing. One of the most important preconditions for the future of our country is for us Europeans to stick together – in our values and in our actions.

So you think that the Europeans are divided?

The worst thing that I heard a European colleague say after we took in the refugees in 2015 was this: “We know that you Germans are leading Europe economically. We had almost become accustomed to the fact that you’re leading the continent politically. But now you also want to lead us morally as well?” This is a consequence of the schoolmaster attitude that the smaller EU member states in particular found disrespectful. I hope that Martin Schulz becomes the next Federal Chancellor so that this can change.

But wasn’t it Mr Schulz who forged ahead in the TV debate and proclaimed the end of the EU accession talks with Turkey as the first objective of his prospective chancellorship?

Martin Schulz only gave expression to what has long been a reality – and for which Mr Erdogan is responsible. Under his leadership, Turkey is rapidly leaving the path that could perhaps lead to EU accession. If a German politician didn’t say what 99 percent of the German people know and think, then that would be a problem.

Interview conducted by Lutz Feierabend, Joachim Frank, Wolfgang Wagner and Jan Wördenweber

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