Austria calls for EU-wide ban on Turkish campaign events

Erdoğan's authoritarian slide has raised concerns in the EU. [unaoc/Flickr]

Turkish politicians should be banned from political campaigning across the European Union, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said on Sunday (5 March), supporting the decision by some German towns last week to cancel Turkish referendum campaign events.

“A collective EU response to prevent such campaign events would make sense so that individual countries like Germany where appearances are forbidden don’t end up being pressured by Turkey,” Kern told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

Ankara is wooing voters among Germany’s three-million-strong population of Turkish origin – the largest outside Turkey – to support expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s powers in a 16 April referendum.

Several German towns prevented appearances by Erdoğan’s ministers last week, citing security and safety concerns.

EU refugee deal limits German response to journalist arrest

Angela Merkel has called the arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel “disappointing” but will still proceed cautiously in order to not jeopardise the EU-Turkey refugee deal. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

The cancellations have angered the Turkish government, which accused Berlin of seeking to undermine its referendum campaign.

At a rally on Sunday, Erdoğan compared the decision to “Nazi practices”, which in turn sparked heated reactions in Germany.

Turkish-German MP Sevim Dagdelen said the comments “belittled German fascism and mocked its victims”.

Defying local authorities’ block on a referendum rally, economy minister Nihat Zeybekci spoke on Sunday at two private events organised by Turkish groups in Cologne and nearby Leverkusen.

Diplomatic tensions

Tensions between Berlin and Ankara were already running high after the arrest of a German-Turkish journalist last Monday (27 February), on charges Germany sees as unsubstantiated. However, German reactions have been measured for fear of jeopardising the EU’s deal with Turkey on migration.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday called Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to smooth the troubled waters, and the two countries’ foreign ministers are set to meet later this week.

Berlin would “certainly not end our criticism of developments in Turkey,” German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said Sunday in a guest article for newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Gabriel insisted Germany would stand up for the rule of law, freedom of opinion, human rights and democracy.

And he rejected Turkey’s arrest of Die Welt newspaper journalist Deniz Yucel last Monday on terror charges as “wrong and disproportionate”.

But “along with all the necessary criticism, we won’t fall for those who want to vent their political spleen on Turkish-German relations”, Gabriel went on.

“The German-Turkish friendship is deeper than the diplomatic tensions we’re living through now.”

On Friday (3 March), the Dutch government said plans by Turkish authorities to hold a referendum campaign rally in Rotterdam, were “undesirable,” but stopped short of trying to prevent them.

Far-right leader Geert Wilders told journalists in Amsterdam the response by Prime Minister Mark Rutte was “very weak. I would do things differently.”

“I would declare… the whole Cabinet of Turkey persona non grata,” he said. Wilders, who has previously been prosecuted for inciting racial hatred, called the Turkish president an “Islamofascist”, saying that he opposed his efforts to change the constitution in Turkey to strengthen his position.

All-powerful presidency

Austrian leader Kern told the Welt am Sonntag that long-running EU accession negotiations with Turkey should be abandoned in response to Erdogan’s “trampling on human rights and basic democratic rights”.

“We can’t continue negotiating about membership with a country that has been distancing itself from democratic norms and rule-of-law principles for years,” Kern said.

New Turkey reform could see Erdogan stay in power until 2029

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has approved a constitutional reform bill that would vastly strengthen the powers of his office and a referendum on the issue is likely on 16 April, officials said today (10 February).

“Introducing a presidential system will further weaken the rule of law in Turkey, reduce the division of powers and contradict the values of the EU.”

Turkish citizens will vote on 16 April on whether to give President Erdoğan sweeping new powers, including the right to make decrees, declare emergency rule and dissolve parliament in times of crisis.

Critics have seen this as a power grab and an attempt to circumvent parliamentary control on the president’s actions.