In a move, some Turkish officials suggest could lead to an irreparable break with Brussels, Germany has blocked the start of new EU talks with Turkey following Ankara’s heavy-handed response to mass demonstrations this month.
The deadlock throws into sharp relief the possible international consequences of Ankara’s use of overwhelming police force on peaceful demonstrators.
At an ambassadorial meeting in Brussels, Germany said it could not support the start of negotiations scheduled for this month. The recommencing of talks have been long scheduled to kick start Ankara’s long-troubled EU bid. The Netherlands also expressed reservations about the talks.
“Germany was simply not ready to give its support,” an EU diplomat said. “The on-going protests obviously had an impact on the decision.”
One Turkish official said that Ankara would be certain to respond to any decision to delay the talks. While indicating his preference for more modest measures, he added that Turkey could even break off political relations with the bloc.
“The EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU,” Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s EU minister, claimed this week. “If we have to, we could tell them ‘Get lost’.” Bagis has also warned that Turkey-EU relations could reach an “irreversible point”.
The EU accounts for over 70% of all foreign direct investment in Turkey and more than 38% of the country’s exports.
Germany claims that its reservations about proceeding with the regional policy chapter of EU membership talks are technical in nature.
However, Chancellor Angela Merkel, always an opponent of Turkish access described herself as “shocked” by the crackdown on the demonstrations, which reached a climax last weekend, when Claudia Roth, the co-chairman of Germany’s Green party, was tear gassed among the protesters and police used water cannon on Istanbul’s German hospital.
One Turkish paper has reported that the police have fired 130,000 tear gas canisters in three weeks, and have called an emergency tender to replenish their stocks.
Diplomats from other EU countries link Berlin’s stance to September’s federal German elections.
The Irish presidency of the EU has said that it will revisit the issue of the pending talks next week if Berlin relents – and Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, who favours Turkish membership, has been seeking ways to overcome Ms Merkel’s opposition. “It isn’t over yet,” said another EU diplomat.
Meanwhile anti-European attitudes have been hardening in Turkey, as the European Commission, has indicated its concern that Germany’s opposition could accelerate Turkey’s potential descent towards greater authoritarianism.
One EU official said that there was a risk of further alienation between Turkey and the EU. “There is also a risk of Turkey drifting away to more authoritarian regimes, as well as slowing down of [the] reform process,” he added.