EU countries seek to block Turkey hosting NATO summit
London - Germany is leading 18 EU countries and Canada in a bid to stop the Turkish government hosting next year’s NATO summit, the latest shot in a diplomatic dispute over human rights, stalled EU membership talks and Ankara’s refusal to allow German members of parliament to visit their troops stationed in southern Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered during the 2016 NATO summit to host the 2018 annual meeting of the 28-member organisation. NATO members informally accepted the invitation but, Die Welt newspaper in Germany reported, a group of European countries led by Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark “vehemently” oppose having the summit in Turkey and are pushing for it to be in Belgium instead.
“We do not want to enhance Turkey’s international credentials,” an unidentified senior NATO diplomat told Die Welt. We want to “avoid the impression that NATO supports the Turkish government’s internal policy,” the diplomat said.
NATO spokesman Piers Cazalet said the next summit might be at NATO’s new headquarters in Brussels but that did not mean Turkey would not host it one day.
“Turkey announced at [the] NATO summit it was ready to host the next one but that invite was not only concerning next year’s summit,” he said.
Turkey’s disputes with Germany and other European countries have multiplied as Erdogan ramped up anti-Western rhetoric and, frustrated by US and European support for Syrian Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State (ISIS), courted closer ties with Russia.
Erdogan caused particular offence when he accused German and Dutch leaders of behaving like “Nazis” for banning Turkish pro-government rallies in Germany and the Netherlands before the April constitutional referendum in which the presidency was granted sweeping new powers.
Alongside doubts over the fairness of the referendum and concerns over the lack of checks and balances in the new constitution, EU countries have expressed dismay at the wide-ranging crackdown that has followed July’s failed coup in Turkey. Nearly 50,000 people have been arrested over alleged links to the plot and 150,000 state employees were suspended or sacked.
Turkish leaders are also infuriated by Germany’s acceptance of asylum applications by at least 450 Turkish diplomats, soldiers and other officials, plus their family members, since the coup attempt. There was a 228% jump in Turkish asylum applications to EU countries in the last quarter of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, EU statistics indicate.
Turkey responded by blocking German parliamentarians from visiting the Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey. About 270 German troops are stationed at Incirlik, where they operate a squadron of Tornado reconnaissance aircraft and a refuelling jet as part of the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Oversight of the German military is carried out by the parliament, not government.
In response, Germany said it was considering pulling its troops out from Incirlik, a move that would complicate its operations with the United States and other NATO allies also using the base. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Jordan was one of the countries under consideration, a statement repeated by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen on a visit to the country in May. Germany is to decide on the issue by mid-June, a German Foreign Ministry official told Reuters.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was due to visit Turkey for talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in what German broadcaster Deutsche Welle quoted officials as saying was a last-ditch effort to defuse the dispute.
Failure to resolve the row would have repercussions for Turkey in many areas, the officials said, including progress on renewing Turkey’s customs union with the European Union and on economic cooperation and tourism.
“Turkey would lose a supporter in the EU and international arenas. There will be no progress in areas where Turkey has expectations,” Deutsche Welle quoted one of the officials as saying.
Germany has long been Turkey’s biggest trading partner, with trade between the two reaching more than $35 billion in 2016, Turkish official statistics state. German official figures indicate that Turkey is Germany’s 17th largest trading partner.
The signs from Turkey do not point to an early resolution of the dispute.
“Germany has negative views on Turkey,” Turkish media quoted Cavusoglu as saying. “Whatever there is against Turkey, we see Germany supporting it… We told Mrs Merkel with the utmost clarity. Germany must understand. ‘I will do whatever I want against Turkey’ and then ‘I will get what I want from Turkey.’ There can be no such thing. Under these conditions opening Incirlik to German parliamentarians is not possible.”