BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers on Monday urged restraint towards Turkey as some said they opposed campaigning by foreign politicians on their soil, stepping into a row that has soured relations between Ankara and Berlin.
On Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany of “fascist actions” in cancelling rallies aimed at drumming up support among 1.5 million Turks living there who are eligible to vote in a referendum on extending his powers.
“The reactions against Germany are very strong... I condemn the reaction of Mister Erdogan, it’s nonsense,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on arriving for talks with his EU counterparts in Brussels.
Ties between Turkey and the EU are strained over a number of issues related to human rights and the rule of law, including Erdogan’s treatment of dissenters, critical media and the country’s Kurdish community.
But Turkey is also a NATO ally and has agreed a deal to block migrants from Syria and other Middle Eastern pressure points from leaving its shores, providing relief for EU governments under growing public pressure to stem immigration.
“It would be very good if Germany and Turkey can sort this out and go back to normal,” said Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini.
His German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel, due to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Berlin on Wednesday, told reporters the two countries had a responsibility to normalise a “clearly strained” relationship.
“We are in favour of sometimes coming to different assessments but returning to a friendly and respectful contact ...in Germany and Europe,” he said.
EXPORTING TURKEY‘S PROBLEMS?
The arrest in Turkey of a Turkish-German journalist has fuelled public outrage over the rallies, at which Turkish ministers were to urge a “Yes” vote in the April 16 referendum.
Turkish authorities have sought to hold a similar gathering in the Netherlands which also has a sizeable Turkish community.
The Dutch government said on Friday it was against plans for a rally in Rotterdam, saying it would inform Ankara of its opposition to the “undesirable” move.
Austria’s foreign minister also said he did not want Turkish politicians to campaign on its soil. Austria has proposed a ban to that effect, an idea that found favour with Slovakia’s Miroslav Lajcak.
“I think there should be rules, I would be rather restrictive because, as we see, it has huge damaging potential,” Lajcak told reporters.
“Obviously the agreement of the country where the rally should take place is very important... it should be clear that whatever happens is in line with the constitutional order of this particular country,” he told reporters.
Berlin says the rallies in Germany were cancelled on security grounds.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Phil Blenkinsop, Tom Koerkemeier, Robert-Jan Bartunek, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by John Stonestreet