Erdoğan, who campaigned in Germany in 2011 and 2014, was rumoured to be planning a political rally to secure the symbolically important diaspora vote before April’s referendum in Turkey on giving him greater powers.
But Merkel’s government is under increasing pressure from German coalition and opposition parties to stand up to the Turkish president after the Turkey correspondent of Die Welt newspaper, Deniz Yücel, last month became the first German citizen to be arrested as part of Erdogan’s crackdown on the press.
Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia and a member of the Social Democratic party that forms a coalition with Merkel’s CDU, called on the government to “ensure that such rallies take place neither in North Rhine-Westphalia or elsewhere in Germany”. Stephan Mayer, of Bavaria’s CSU party, said a Turkish president who imprisoned German journalists was “not welcome as a guest in Germany”.
Sevim Dağdelen, a Left party MP with Kurdish origins, said Merkel had “a political duty and the legal means to stop the Turkish head of state from campaigning on German soil for the abolition of democracy and the introduction of the death penalty”.
Austria has already told Erdoğan he is not welcome to campaign for votes amongst the Turkish diaspora in the country, with the foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, saying in a statement that “we clearly reject bringing the Turkish campaign and polarisation to Austria”.
But on Wednesday Merkel’s spokesman said a ban would send the wrong signal.
Steffen Seibert said: “The German government deplores the fact that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are currently limited in Turkey to an unacceptable degree.
“If we deplore this in another country, then we should be even more alert to make sure that freedom of speech is respected, within the framework of the law, in our own country. We should demonstrate what we demand from others.”
Niels Annen, the Social Democrats’ foreign policy spokesman, praised the government’s decision to rule out a ban but said the current diplomatic crisis was a result of the German chancellor letting the refugee swap deal between Turkey and the EU influence her dealings with Erdoğan. “Merkel is no longer a believable advocate for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey,” he said.
In the referendum on 18 April, the Turkish public will vote on proposed changes that would boost the powers of the president, allowing Erdoğan to scrap the post of prime minister, control budgets, appoint more judges and stay in office for two more terms.
The support of the Turkish diaspora in Germany, a community of about 1.4 million people, holds an important symbolic significance to Erdoğan’s AK party. “Pictures of German stadiums filled with pro-Erdoğan supporters allow the AKP to project itself back to Turkey as the one party that protects Turks around the world,” said Alexander Clarkson, a researcher on the interaction between German politics and migrant communities at King’s College London.
In reality, he said, the impression of overwhelming support for Erdoğan among Turks living in Germany was a “statistical card trick”. Clarkson added: “Of those with Turkish roots entitled to vote at the last election, only 40% turned out to the polling booth, of which 60% voted for Erdoğan. Many diaspora Turks in Germany are indifferent to Turkish politics, if not actively hostile to the current president.”
TGD, an association that represents a large part of the Turkish community in Germany, has announced that it will campaign for a no vote in the referendum, stating in a resolution that it “rejects all attempts to turn the country into a one-man regime”.
Author: Philip Oltermann