German Justice Minister Heiko Maas spoke with EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel about dealing with the Turkish government, satire and freedom of expression, as well as the position of the Social Democrats as the party falls in the polls.
Heiko Maas is a member of the German Social Democratic Party and is Federal Minister for Justice
Maas spoke with Tagesspiegel’s Stephan Haselberger and Hans Monath.
The EU has a refugee agreement with Turkey, a country which has proved itself to be a difficult partner to work with. Is there going to be a relaxing of values for Ankara, because the bloc has become so dependent on Turkey in the management of the refugee crisis?
No. There will be no let up for Turkey. We stand by our values. A relaxation of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression or the press, can not and will not happen.
Turkey’s position as a difficult partner to work with is pretty clear. Take for example the recent satirical articles about Turkish President Erdoğan, the German ambassador in Ankara was summoned and it took the federal government to champion press freedom. Has Berlin got to make it clear to Turkey that they must comply with these values if they want EU membership to stay on the table?
The German ambassador used this meeting to make our position very clear: He left no doubt about how fundamental freedom of expression and the press are to our democracy and that they are an essential part of European values. Several other government officials have also pointed this out. We are not going to mess around on this.
Facilitating a faster track through the accession process with a difficult country like Turkey, as the EU has been doing, is surely going to be problematic.
We should not be linking the refugee crisis to the debate about EU membership. The EU is already in the midst of very long accession negotiations with Turkey. I am in favour of the chapter on justice and human rights being opened. There are going to be some really robust and serious discussions on these topics. Turkey are going to have to put all their cards on the table and show us how things stand in the country. Ankara is going to have to really deliver on press freedom and the rule of law and justice. The difficult negotiations ahead are a chance to promote more recognition of these European principles.
What is your take on TV presenter Jan Böhmermann’s poem, in which he insulted Erdoğan?
He himself said that he very specifically wanted to explore the boundaries of freedom of expression.
Did he exceed the limits?
As the justice minister, it is not for me to comment. Especially as there is an ongoing investigation.
According to a recent poll, the SPD has dropped to its lowest level since it entered government (21%). Why is this and how are you going to act now?
We will continue to do our part in government, so that social cohesion continues to function in society. We will stay the course, do our job and we are looking for solutions to important social issues. In terms of the refugee debate, it is in the end much more than just about party interests. We are in a highly political phase. There will continue to be a discussion about values. In such an important debate, it is especially important to have a clear position.
The figures for party leader Sigmar Gabriel don’t look good. Should the SPD look for another candidate for chancellor?
No, there’s no panic. No one is really interested in such a debate currently. We’re going to remain very calm. I am firmly convinced that the SPD will ultimately benefit from Vice-Chancellor Gabriel. People have a keen sense about who really fights in government for the right answers to important questions.
This interview was also published by EURACTIV Germany.