BERLIN — Germany issued a travel alert for Turkey on Thursday, citing “heightened danger” after the arrest of a German human rights campaigner in Istanbul and marking the latest in a string of incidents that have pushed tensions between Berlin and Ankara close to breaking point.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel voiced scathing criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a press conference, saying Ankara had “abandoned the ground of European values” by jailing “innocent visitors to their country on outrageous charges.” Gabriel added he believed that Turkey had also abandoned NATO’s common values.
Gabriel’s comments followed the arrest on July 5 of Peter Steudtner, a human rights activist from Berlin whom Turkish authorities accuse of supporting a terrorist organization. Steudtner was participating in a workshop with Amnesty International in Istanbul when he was taken into custody.
The minister also announced a wider shift in German-Turkish relations, saying the Turkish president had time and again shown he was not interested in engaging in dialogue. “It takes two to tango,” he said, adding “we can’t go on as before.”
Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries struck a similar tone in a statement emailed to POLITICO. “We are experiencing a nadir in German-Turkish economic relations,” she said.
Zypries said that she would “discuss with our European partners how to proceed. This applies to questions of economic aid for Turkey or the further development of the customs union [with the EU].”
Germany has so far trodden softly in its disputes with Ankara, although it remains unclear if Berlin’s approach has achieved its intended goals. Following Turkey’s decision to ban German parliamentarians from visiting an airbase in Incirlik, Germany decided in June to withdraw its troops.
Germany’s stance has been driven, at least in part, by a desire to avoid derailing the refugee deal struck last year with Erdoğan, under which Turkish authorities stop refugees from traveling into Europe and in return European governments provide funding to the government in Ankara.
“Time and again we showed great patience, when there were accusations which at times are unbearable for German ears”
But Gabriel said things had changed. He said the arrest of a German human rights activist proved that “anybody can be affected” by random arrests.
“We therefore have to redefine our policy on Turkey,” said Gabriel, who said this was also the view of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat challenger in September’s parliamentary election, Martin Schulz.
Gabriel said “enhanced alerts” that had so far been in place for certain professions — such as journalists — that could face danger in Turkey would now be extended to all German citizens. The website of the foreign ministry was updated to warn all Germans of possible arrests.
“Persons traveling to Turkey for private or business reasons are advised to be more cautious and to register, even for short stays, on the crisis list of German consulates,” the ministry said.