Turkey warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday not to play politics with its EU ambitions as Berlin blocked moves to open a new chapter in Ankara’s EU membership talks next week.
Turkey said failure to open the chapter would be a major setback in Ankara’s relations with the bloc and one senior Turkish official said it would “draw a strong reaction.”
Many EU capitals want to take the long-awaited step on Turkey’s path towards the EU next Wednesday, arguing Europe should capitalize on Ankara’s rising influence in the Middle East.
However, Germany has criticized Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s heavy-handed response to weeks of anti-government protests and refuses to agree to open a new negotiation area, potentially the first such step in three years.
Germany blocked the opening of the new chapter, dealing with regional funding issues, at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Thursday, EU diplomats said.
The EU has so far not canceled next Wednesday’s planned talks with Turkey, an EU source said.
EU governments agreed to think about the issue over the weekend, and may return to it next week, but at this stage, there were no firm plans to do so, the EU source said.
“The Germans have to report back home, but it seems they are leaning toward not opening the chapter,” one EU diplomat said.
Ireland, which holds the EU presidency, said it continued to seek consensus to open a new chapter with Turkey on Wednesday.
Merkel’s conservatives have rejected Turkish EU membership in their German election program, saying the country would “overburden” the bloc because of its size and economy, sparking anger in Ankara.
“If Merkel is looking for domestic political material for her elections, that material should not be Turkey,” Turkey’s EU minister Egemen Bagis said on Thursday.
Opposition in Germany to Turkish EU membership has grown in recent years, with two-thirds saying they opposed it in a new poll by Forsa for Thursday’s edition of weekly magazine Stern.
Merkel on Monday said she was “appalled” by the crackdown on protesters in Istanbul. The protests began over a redevelopment project in a park, but spiraled into an unprecedented show of defiance against what Erdogan critics call his authoritarianism.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso declined to comment on Turkey’s EU membership talks at a Vienna press conference on Thursday, but said: “Of course we have been following [with] concern recent developments in Turkey.”
Erdogan and his government have bristled at foreign criticism of his handling of the unrest, saying the response was no different to police action taken in the past in countries including Germany and the US.
Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday quoted a senior Turkish diplomat as saying Ankara could suspend negotiations with Brussels altogether if the new chapter is not opened next week, although other officials were more cautious.
“A decision not to open this chapter would definitely send the wrong signal and will draw a strong reaction from Turkey,” a senior Turkish official said.