Germany threatens to cut EU refugee aid to Turkey

Tensions between Germany and Turkey may soon escalate as Berlin raises the possibility of suspending European Union aid payments to Ankara yesterday. The two countries have not seen eye to eye on a number of issues recently. The arrest by Turkey of human rights activists and journalists, some German citizens, earlier this month, has further deteriorated relations.

On Tuesday, a court in Istanbul sentenced six human rights activists, including German citizen Steudtner, to prison pending investigations. The activists were arrested two weeks ago during a workshop in Istanbul and were accused by the Turkish prosecutors of supporting an armed terrorist organisation.

German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told a news conference yesterday: “We think it is important to review aid in light of the latest developments.”

Seibert’s comments were echoed today by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel who cut short his holiday to deal with the latest rise in tensions with Turkey, expressed a desire to take German policy towards Turkey in “a new direction”.

“We can’t continue as we have done,” said Gabriel as he advised German citizens visiting Turkey to exercise caution if traveling to Turkey while also threatening to take measures against Ankara that could hinder German investment in Turkey.

Seibert was referring to a package of assistance totalling €3 billion ($3.49 billion) that the EU has promised to Turkey to help stem flows of migrants, mostly from conflict zones in the Middle East, into Europe. However, with a national election due in September, Seibert will tread carefully as Turkey, with 3.5 million Syrian refugees in the country, has the ability to rekindle Europe’s refugee crisis that could harm Angela Merkel’s prospects of remaining the chancellor.

German Government spokesman Steffen Seibert

Turkey is said to have detained 22 German citizens in total since the 15 July 2016 foiled coup for their alleged involvement with terrorist groups. Gabriel has said these allegations are “absurd”. “It is appalling to accuse Amnesty and other rights organisations of terrorism,” he said.

It’s been suggested that Ankara is using German detainees to pressure Berlin to extradite army officers that have sought asylum in Germany. Ankara is seeking their extradition in order to put them on trial over their involvement in last years failed coup, but Berlin has declined to return the men.