BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his first speech as president on Wednesday to warn Turkey’s head of state Tayyip Erdogan that he risked destroying everything his country had achieved in recent years.
Steinmeier, formerly Berlin’s foreign minister, said NATO ally Turkey also risked damaging diplomatic ties by accusing Germany of using Nazi tactics to bar Turkish politicians from campaigning among German Turks for a referendum next month.
Turkey’s row with European countries over campaigning among the Turkish diaspora for a referendum to grant Erdogan greater powers is compounded in Germany because Ankara has also caused anger here by detaining German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel.
“The way we look (at Turkey) is characterised by worry, that everything that has been built up over years and decades is collapsing,” Steinmeier said in his inaugural speech in the largely ceremonial role.
“President Erdogan, you are jeopardising everything that you, with others, have built,” he said, adding that he would welcome “credible signs” to ease the situation.
“End the unspeakable Nazi comparisons!” Steinmeier said. “Do not cut the ties to those people who want partnership with Turkey! Respect the rule of law and the freedom of media and journalists! And release Deniz Yucel.”
Steinmeier said Turkey was a different country to the one visitors experienced three decades ago due to a stronger economy, reforms and a growing friendship with Europe.
“We felt a special link to the path that Turkey took (two decades ago), also due to the many people with Turkish roots who live and work and are at home in Germany,” he said, adding that that was now at risk.
Steinmeier also expressed concern about a fascination with authoritarianism which was even penetrating Europe.
With attention on France, Russia, the United States and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Germans should not be complacent, he said, urging citizens to fight populism and stand up for democracy.
Relations between Germany and Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, have deteriorated significantly in the last year, especially since a failed coup attempt in Turkey in July. Germany has condemned the coup attempt but expressed concern about what critics say is a subsequent crackdown on dissent.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans would not be able to walk safely if they kept up their attitudes.
The German government has rejected 11 export requests from Turkey for small arms, munitions and components since November 2016 due to concerns they could be used for “internal repression” or in Turkey’s conflict with its Kurdish population, according to answers provided by the economics ministry in response to a query from a left-wing lawmaker.
The rejections were first reported by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Paul Carrel and Tom Heneghan