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Opinion: Germany finally takes a tougher stance on Turkey

July 20, 2017

The German government is no longer just verbally distancing itself from Ankara, but taking concrete measures. This move is long overdue, but there is no certainty that it will bring results, writes DW's Christoph Strack.

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Image: Imago/Müller-Stauffenberg

The German government is finally standing up to Turkey. This step was overdue – at least a little. Other measures are also conceivable but more importantly, the German side has now made it clear for the first time that it will not merely resort to admonishing Turkey. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also underscored the solidarity of the government's coalition parties - even now, in the midst of the election campaign.

For months, Turkey has been treating imprisoned German citizens in a manner which would be unthinkable in any EU country and would lead to a considerable diplomatic crisis. Nine of 22 German nationals currently detained in Turkey are being held in pre-trial custody. The most well-known cases are the German Amnesty International employee Peter Steudtner; the journalist Deniz Yucel, who has been already detained for 157 days; and the translator Mesale Tolu, all three of whom have been accused of spreading terrorist propaganda. "And they stand for an injustice that can target anyone," the German minister pointed out.

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DW's Christoph StrackImage: DW

A constant provocation

The fact that German citizens are arrested all over the world for various reasons - violent crimes, traffic offense, or sexual abuse - is normal in the globalized world and is a part of the business of diplomacy. Gabriel said, of the Germans detained in Turkey, "In each case, we have had to fight for consular access, which is a right guaranteed under international law." This is an affront to diplomats, a constant provocation - for a foreign minister as well, and especially for a chancellor. But it's about more. It is about the departure from fundamental European values, the abandonment of the rule of law - including its reliability - and democracy.

Given this background, how useful are the steps now being taken with regard to travel advice, export guarantees and investment loans? Germany's foreign ministry has issued revised travel guidelines but this seems to be a minor detail. The government is obviously avoiding tougher guidelines, meaning a travel warning, which have already been issued for 25 countries. There may be fears that travel agents will sue for compensation of lost income. "People who are traveling to Turkey for private or business reasons are urged to exercise increased caution, and should register with German consulates and the embassy, even for shorter visits," the ministry warned people planning holidays to Turkey's sunny beaches. Every trip involves risk. It is best to avoid it.

Gabriel's announcement to change guarantee regulations for German companies investing in Turkey will also have consequences - more for the land of the Bosphorus than for the currently booming German economy. It also serves as a signal for the Germany economy - that Berlin no longer trusts Turkey. For German foreign trade in the wake of Gabriel's announcements, it is expected that there will be "considerable decline," but that the economy will not "falter."

Values come at a price

Yes, European values ​​can come at a price. While TV stations were waiting for Gabriel's speech today, one of them broadcast a commercial by the Turkish tourism board conveying love, peace and harmony. It was quite irritating. While the global publishing company Springer Verlag fights for its detained employee Deniz Yucel and runs the hashtag "#Free Deniz" on the electronic billboard over its Berlin headquarters, Springer publications, like other German newspapers, are running large ads for tourism in Turkey. This is also irritating. If you cherish your values, you have to be willing to pay a price.

Just two months before the parliamentary elections, in the middle of the election campaign, Gabriel asserted his agreement and alignment with Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as her challenger Martin Schulz. The German government and the parties it is made up stand united behind a tougher stance on Turkey. Only towards the end of Gabriel's speech was it clear that he and Martin Schulz would take a tougher stance on Ankara. He would like to freeze EU-level talks on the customs union agreement. Are the Social Democrats creating a back door for themselves? Or do they sense that the current German approach will not impress Ankara? But Mr Erdogan has long since chosen a path that leads away from Europe - not only from Germany.

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Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.@Strack_C