German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that she would seek to block Turkey’s accession to the European Union during a debate with her Social Democrats election rival Martin Schulz. Her comments marked an about-face on the position she had taken earlier in the debate when she said: “I do not intend to break off diplomatic relations with Turkey just because we’re in an election campaign and want to show each other who is tougher.” However when Schulz vowed to put an end to Turkey’s membership bid Merkel apparently changed her mind saying: “The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” adding that she would work with her European partners to put a stop to the accession talks.
Tensions between the two NATO allies have been running high since Berlin criticised Ankara for cracking down on opponents after a failed coup attempt in the country last year. Relations deteriorated further when German authorities refused Turkish politicians permission to hold rallies in German cities in the run up to a referendum in Turkey which gave sweeping executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Twelve Germans, four of them with dual nationality, have been detained during the sweep of dissidents accused of having connections to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based former Imam whom Turkey accuses of plotting the coup.
Although her CDU party has always been opposed to Turkey entering the EU, Merkel has been put in a difficult position by her need to uphold a deal struck with Ankara in which it agreed to stem the flow of migrants entering Europe in return for continued accession talks. There has been no response as of yet from Turkey to Merkel’s comments. Polls taken after the debate found that 55 percent of respondents thought the Chancellor outperformed Schulz who failed to distinguish his party’s policies from those of the CDU after four years in government together.