German chancellor Angela Merkel condemned “unjustifiable” comments made by Turkish leaders likening her government to Nazis on Thursday.
Merkel’s stern response to criticism from Turkish President Erdogan and his foreign minister follows months of escalating tensions between the two countries, and comes at a time when the state of their relationship could affect both Turkey’s future and Europe’s refugee crisis.
Winning applause from lawmakers in the Bundestag Thursday, Merkel said remarks by the Turkish president and his foreign minister were “misplaced,” adding: “We will not allow the victims of the Nazis to be trivialized by such comparisons.”
Erdogan accused Germany of “fascist actions” after regional German councils cancelled rallies aimed at encouraging Turkish expatriates to vote with their leader in next month’s referendum on reforms to the constitution – a plan which would strengthen his powers.
Almost 1.5 million Turks living in Germany remain eligible to vote in their home country – effectively making Germany the fourth biggest Turkish electoral district.
At the center of this fractious relationship lies the deal that the EU made with Turkey in late 2016 aimed at reducing the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe. The Turkish government has repeatedly threatened to scrap it if Turkey’s path to joining the EU is not made easier.
Merkel’s critics say this reliance on the migrant deal has softened her stance on Turkey’s actions following last year’s failed coup. Sevim Dağdelen, a lawmaker with Germany’s left-wing opposition party Die Linke, told VICE News that Merkel’s policy on Turkey is “scandalous.”
“For political reasons, and for the sake of the economy, she is willing to sacrifice the rule of law in Turkey, and human rights,” she said. “She (Merkel) is tolerating Erdogan as he rebuilds Turkey into an Islamist dictatorship, where its dissidents are bloodily beaten down.”
Not everybody agrees. Erdogan retains high support in Germany’s Turkish diaspora. Ibrahim, a 44-year-old shopkeeper, told VICE News that Germans should stick to commenting on their own politicians.
“Erdogan has made Turkey powerful again,” he added, exhaling cigarette smoke from behind his cash register. “The world is talking about our president, and this makes me proud as a Turk.”
The so-called “one in, one out” refugee deal was made to reduce the number of migrants arriving in Europe. It sees undocumented migrants arriving in Greece sent back to Turkey. A registered Syrian refugee is resettled somewhere in Europe for every migrant returning to Turkey, which receives funding and closer ties to the EU in exchange.
Political consultant Gerald Knaus designed the strategy. He told VICE News the deal isn’t in danger – and that Turkish threats are just political bluster.
“It’s a very common view that somehow the EU has made itself completely dependent on Turkey. But it’s complete nonsense,” he said. “Turkey wants this agreement to work. It’s in Turkey’s interests.
“It’s an orphan deal, nobody wants to defend it. But a lot of people realize that anything else is worse.”
Mr Knaus’ view is echoed by Merkel’s supporters. Cemile Giousouf, one of eleven German lawmakers with Turkish roots and the first female Muslim in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told VICE News that Germany cannot afford to break ties with Turkey.
“Our chancellor has spoken clearly on the fascism comparisons. She has said that she rejects the death penalty, and the presidential system.
“But we have to wonder how we can keep our influence on Turkey if we cut off all diplomatic ties. We have a German journalist in jail right now, we have German entrepreneurs in Turkish prisons. How can we help these people if we cut all diplomatic ties?”