BERLIN (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel published on Saturday that Turkey has never been less likely to join the European Union than now, as relations between Ankara and Berlin hit a low point.
“Today Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the European Union than ever before,” Gabriel said in the interview.
He also said that he always had doubts about whether Turkey should join the EU but found himself in the minority in his Social Democrat (SPD) party.
Before taking power in Germany in 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel was an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s membership and instead called for a “privileged partnership”.
Gabriel disliked that idea because he thought it would make Turks feel like second-class Europeans but he said his opinion had changed since Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
“Today the situation is totally different due to Brexit. We’d be well advised to bring about a ‘special relationship’ with Great Britain after its exit from the EU,” Gabriel said.
“That will be an important learning process for the EU and perhaps some of it can serve as a blueprint for other countries in the long term,” Gabriel said.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is courting Turks abroad for support in an April 16 referendum that would grant him sweeping new powers.
He infuriated Germany and the Netherlands by describing bans on planned rallies by Turkish ministers as “fascist”. The arrest of a Turkish-German journalist in Ankara has also caused upset.
Gabriel said Erdogan was taking advantage of a sentiment many people of Turkish origin have in Germany that they are neither accepted nor welcomed.
He said Germany should avoid reacting in kind to provocations from Turkey because that would only give Erdogan the “who needs a bogeyman for his campaign”.
He also warned Turkish politicians that they could be banned from holding rallies in Germany if they do not stick to German laws: “Whoever crosses these lines cannot expect to be allowed to propagate his political ideas here.”
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Julia Glover)