German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed on Wednesday that Turkey was an important partner in the fight against terrorism, warning Europe against “pushing it away.”
She said Europe should not push Turkey away despite worries about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tightening grip on power, seeming to play down talk that its aspirations to join the European Union are over.
The EU’s top official dealing with Ankara has told Reuters that Turkey had disqualified itself from joining the bloc due to Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents, his “Nazi” jibes at Germany and a referendum that granted him sweeping new powers.
However, in an interview published in the Berliner Zeitung, Merkel said that Turkey was “an important partner in the fight against terror” and it was in the EU’s and NATO’s interests to have good relations with Ankara.
“You should not just push away such a partner, even in view of negative developments that we must address,” she said.
Asked about EU membership talks, Merkel was more cagey, although she reiterated that Turkey would cross a red line with the EU if it were to reintroduce the death penalty.
“We in Europe must jointly discuss what sort of future relationship we want with Turkey,” she said.
Many in Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) are skeptical about Turkey joining the bloc but Merkel has long argued that it is important to talk to Ankara and no decisions on actual membership are close.
She also rejected calls from some conservative allies to tighten up the rules on dual citizenship, which affect many of the 3 million people with Turkish roots living in Germany, an issue in the run-up to a September 24 parliamentary election.
“Dual citizenship will not be an election campaign issue like it was in 1999,” Merkel told the Koelner Stadt Anzieger in an interview, referring to a debate before Germany changed the rules in 2000 which made it easier to get dual citizenship.
Merkel’s government has for the last decade talked about the need for greater integration of Germany Turkish community. The arrival of more than 1 million migrants in the last two years had intensified the debate.
On Tuesday, Germany’s interior minister caused a furor for saying migrants must accept a “dominant (German) culture” that includes shaking hands, rejecting Islamic full-face veils and grasping the importance of Bach and Goethe.
The row over 10 theses on German culture and values set out by conservative Thomas de Maiziere in a Sunday paper indicates that the integration of more than a million migrants who have arrived in Germany since 2015 will be a hot election issue.
Merkel, whose popularity was hit by her open-door migrant policy, is favored to win a fourth term but her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have picked up 8-10 points since choosing a new leader in January.
Even some of his fellow conservatives criticized de Maiziere for writing: “We value some social customs… as they are an expression of a certain behavior … We are an open society. We show our face. We are not burqa.”
The burqa is the full face veil worn by devoutly religious Muslim women.
Ruprecht Polenz, former general secretary of Merkel’s CDU, distanced himself from de Maiziere, saying the idea of a “dominant culture” was problematic given that German values were already set out in the constitution.
“I think it raises the question about where there is still a need for binding rules and how a ‘dominant culture’ fits in with the diverse cultures in Germany,” Polenz told Deutschlandfunk.
The subject is deeply sensitive for many Germans out of concern, given the country’s Nazi past, that “dominant culture” risks straying in the direction of nationalism and repression.
The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has dipped in popularity after last year capitalizing on fears about the migrant crisis, also derided the theses as electioneering.