Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik has said Ankara wants to end tensions with Berlin and suggest bilateral collaboration to address refugee flows from Syria. Celik spoke to DW's Deger Akal.
In an exclusive interview with DW, Omer Celik (pictured above) addressed concerns about Ankara's difficult relations with Berlin following the July 15 coup, the stifling of free speech and democratic rights in the country and Turkey's stance on the refugee deal with the EU.
DW: You paid an official visit to Berlin at a time of tensions between Turkey and Germany. How did the talks go? Do you see an end to these tensions?
Omer Celik: No one wants the tensions to continue. We're quite aware of how important Germany is and Germany is aware of how important Turkey is. But sometimes there are communication mishaps. If there's any misinformation on our part, we're ready to do much more. But we say that Turkey should be understood correctly. For example, our German friends told us of a TV program on a very important German channel. Apparently it was said that there wasn't an attempted coup in Turkey and that this was planned by the government itself in order to detain its opponents. What is distressing is that this is a claim made by the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO). It is black propaganda aimed at harming the Turkish-German shared agenda. When their coup attempt failed, they started circulating this claim.
Many politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, condemned the coup attempt, voiced support for the investigations within the rule of law and measures in fight against terrorism. However, there is a concern that the steps taken recently are undermining rule of law in Turkey.
Of course, we appreciate Chancellor Merkel's prudent statements highlighting the importance of Turkey. However, what's more important is all other politicians in Europe use a similar language in public. For example, Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said, "As long as I live, Turkey will not become an EU member." What kind of a benefit will this statement bring, other than being used in domestic politics? Will it benefit Turkish-German relations or Turkey-EU relations at all? Turkey must not be used in domestic political agendas.
But others in Europe criticize Turkey's leadership for carrying out an anti-EU or anti-Germany rhetoric for domestic political calculations…
We want communications mishaps like this to end. We have some friends that ask us, "Why did you say this or that?" And I tell them, "Look at that statement's background. We must have said it as an answer to something you said. We wouldn't have said anything like that out of the blue."
Do you think this vicious circle of harsh statements by politicians to the media will ever end?
I spoke openly about all this with my counterparts here. We're not disturbed by the criticisms. What's important is that the criticisms be constructive. We're disturbed by negative criticisms that exclude Turkey and lack vision. For example, Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz, speaks like a racist. This isn't harmful to Turkey but it's harmful to the European Union project. In the coming months, there will be elections in five very important European countries. There are signs that conservative, racist trends are on the rise. The real goal of their anti-Turkey stand is to sabotage the European project, to advance anti-Europeanization and to destroy European values.
Will Turkey keep its commitments concerning human rights and being a constitutional state?
Turkey has been through an attempted coup and is struggling with terrorist attacks, but has said the following: "I will declare a state of emergency in accordance with Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I will make good on my commitments." Under these circumstances, in the EU's progress report on Turkey, it is underlined that Turkey demonstrated good progress in 30 out of 33 areas, but the report also included many criticisms. That means Turkey maintains its will to continue reforms. Even in a state of emergency, Turkey has managed to increase civil oversight over the military. Turkey has an EU Ministry that is working towards realizing its full accession to the EU. Of course, Turkey will make good on its commitments.
However there are many detained journalists and politicians. As the EU minister, what is your explanation for this?
You cannot generalize and say that journalists and lawmakers are detained. For example, one of these journalists had written that the PKK only attacks the military in the Southeast and that they should also attack shopping malls in western cities. How can this be considered as freedom of the press? A member of parliament said, "The PKK has our backs. They have the strength to punish Turkish authorities." A member of parliament doesn't have the right to say such a thing.
There are many journalists who have been imprisoned without any reasonable grounds…
The EU tells us "We have concerns about Turkey." So we tell them to open chapters 23 and 24 in Turkey's EU membership talks, which are about judiciary and fundamental rights and the freedom of the press, and talk about how we can make progress. The EU also voices concerns about Poland and Hungary as well. Do they kick them out? No, they sit down and talk to them. If we were afraid to talk about these matters, if we were afraid of the criticism, I would never have asked them to open these chapters.
Will Turkey continue to implement the EU-Turkey agreement of March 18 that is aimed at addressing the refugee crisis?
I think it would be more appropriate to ask this question to the EU. "Do they want the agreement to continue?" The agreement also includes visa liberalization, re-energizing of the accession process, opening the chapters, upgrading the customs union, resettlement and the 3 billion euros. Which one of these has the EU followed through on?
At what stage is the visa liberalization?
They're continually hiding behind the excuse of seven of the 72 benchmarks not being met. After the attack on Paris, a state of emergency was declared. In just one year, we suffered almost 20 bigger attacks. We're at war with Daesh ["Islamic State"] and the PKK, and we went through an attempted coup. Under these circumstances, can they really tell us to change our anti-terror legislation? If the federal German parliament, the Bundestag, was bombed, if there were tanks slaughtering civilians at the Brandenburg gate would they change their anti-terror legislation? I asked a German expert, this very question and he said "Just the opposite, they would strive to strengthen the law”.
Do you believe that the EU has backed down from the agreement?
Look, it's a very clear picture. If they back down from the provisions on chapters, 3 billion euros and visa liberalization, then it's the EU backing down, not us. They said they would reanimate admission talks. So, where did this "not opening chapters" phrase come from? With that phrase, the EU is backing down from the agreement.
The European Commission stated that the 3 billion euros to Turkey for the refugees has been quickly allocated…
The agreement calls for 3 billion ($3.13 billion) euros. They say2.24 billion ($2.34 billion) of that has been committed. But this is just a commitment. Turkey has received only 667 million ($708 million) so far. And 400 million ($418 million) of that was via the World Bank and the rest was allocated directly to the relevant institutions. This is a ridiculous amount.
Right now all eyes are on Syria and Aleppo. Is there a chance for a joint initiative for humanitarian aid?
I'm going to give you a special piece of information. Our president has a proposal. Chancellor Merkel looked upon it favorably. The proposal calls for the construction of houses inside Syria, in a safe zone and keeping the refugees there. We're waiting for the German government to support our president's proposal. We can do this together. That way, the migration drift would be met inside Syria and this would prevent more people from becoming affected by political and humanitarian crises.
Are you talking about a bilateral cooperation with Germany, independent of the EU?
We want the EU to take stronger initiatives, but the EU member states often can't develop joint policies in foreign policy. The existing mechanisms don't work. The refugee flows will continue. There's a new wave coming from Aleppo.