German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is right to act against what he called unacceptable Turkish policies under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who he said seeks to quench the country’s opposition.
“Many who have worked cooperatively with him and his party in the last few years are now being persecuted, are thrown in jail, are being silenced. We can’t accept that,” Steinmeier said in excerpts of an interview with ZDF public television released before broadcast Sunday evening. “It’s a question of the self-esteem of our country to send clear stop signals.”
Steinmeier backed German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who in an open letter to the 3.5 million ethnic Turks in Germany wrote that friendship between the two peoples is “a great treasure.” It’s “bitter” that policy makers in Ankara are tearing down bridges built between the two nations over decades, Steinmeier said.
Erdogan said on on Sunday that Germany’s actions on Turkey are “unforgivable” and suggested retaliation.
“No one can interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs,” he said. “The government will do everything against those who are agents against Turkey.”
The bilateral dispute escalated Friday after a Turkish judge ordered the re-arrest of four human-rights campaigners from Germany. Journalists are also being held. German companies including Daimler AG, Deutsche Bank AG, Siemens AG and Volkswagen AG are exposed to Turkey with local operations or manufacturing, and the German government depends on the country to help stem the flow of migrants into Europe.
With Merkel’s backing, Gabriel on Thursday announced a “re-orientation” of Germany’s Turkey policy and issued travel warnings to Germans. European Union Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Turkey is moving “farther and farther away from European standards” and called Germany’s reaction “understandable” amid Turkey’s arrest of human-rights activists, journalists and others under “dubious pretensions.”
Steinmeier, whose role in German politics is largely ceremonial, acknowledged that Erdogan contributed to Turkey’s economic ascent and past convergence with Europe, “but he’s destroying all this now, and after he designed everything — the entire government system — to his liking by means of the referendum, he also carries responsibility for it now.”
“And therefore it’s right from my point of view that the federal government finds clear words,” he said.
The leader of the Bavarian CSU party, Horst Seehofer, said in an interview with the Welt am Sonntag paper that he backs the German government’s actions including a travel warning for Germans, as well as an adjustment of payments to Turkey under an EU program for countries aiming to join the union.