Germany warns against Turkey travel, investment as ties deteriorate

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel announced a range of steps against Turkey in response to the detention of a German human rights activist, signalling a more confrontational stance to the Nato ally after an escalation in tensions.
German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel gives a press conference in Berlin, on July 20, 2017.
German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel gives a press conference in Berlin, on July 20, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS)- Germany on Thursday (July 20) vowed stinging measures impacting tourism and investment in Turkey and a full "overhaul" of their troubled relations, signalling its patience had snapped after Ankara's arrests of human rights activists.

The Foreign Ministry stepped up its travel advisory for the Nato ally, warning it could no longer guarantee its citizens' safety amid "arbitrary" mass arrests, a step set to hit a sector crucial to Turkey's ailing economy.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a day after his ministry summoned Turkey's ambassador, interrupted his holidays and returned to Berlin to deliver his unusually strong comments towards President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Relations between Turkey and Germany, home to three million ethnic Turks, have been badly strained, particularly since the failed coup attempt a year ago against Erdogan.

A Turkish court on Tuesday ordered six human rights activists to remain in custody for allegedly aiding a "terror" group - among them Amnesty International's Turkey director Idil Eser and Berlin-based activist Peter Steudtner.

Turkey in February arrested, on similar charges, German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel of Die Welt daily and is holding several other German citizens.

Gabriel said Germany would review state guarantees for foreign investment in Turkey and urge businesses against putting their money there, and also review its support for billions in EU financial flows earmarked for the long-time aspirant to membership of the bloc.

A Social Democrat, Gabriel made clear he was speaking for the coalition government led by conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, and her spokesman soon tweeted that the steps were indeed "necessary and indispensable".

Turkey accused Germany of displaying "great political irresponsibility" in stepping up the travel warning for the country. "Sending a message... (to Germans) telling them that it's not safe to travel to Turkey is a great political irresponsibility," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.

Gabriel recalled that Turkey, having long seen itself as "a member of the European family", had levelled Nazi jibes at Germany, and accused Erdogan of worsening a crisis that Berlin had repeatedly sought to ease through dialogue.

He accused Erdogan of trying to muzzle "every critical voice" with mass arrests in sweeping crackdowns over the last year.

Gabriel stressed that Germany still wanted to rebuild relations with its long-time ally but that first Erdogan's government must "return to European values". Gabriel's warnings to tourists as well as business travellers could deal a significant blow to southern resorts. So far this year, bookings from Germany have accounted for some 10 per cent of Turkey's tourists.

The travel sector contributes some US$30 billion (S$41 billion) to the economy in a normal year.

Germany was Turkey's top export destination in 2016, buying US$14 billion worth of Turkish exports, according to IMF direction of trade statistics. It was also the second-biggest source of Turkish imports, at US$21.5 billion. Only China, at US$25.4 billion, exported more to Turkey.

Mr Gabriel said the situation also affected how the EU dealt with accession programmes for Turkey and said Germany would speak to European colleagues about that in the coming days and weeks.