Merkel says Turkey-EU customs union update not possible amid tensions

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BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 16 : German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on August 16, 2017. AFP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the European Union cannot continue expanding the customs union with Turkey unless tensions with Turkey ease.

Merkel’s remarks came during an interview with four high-profile YouTube stars as part of a campaign for the prime ministerial elections.

The German government asked the European Commission to suspend preparatory work on negotiations with Turkey for modernizing the EU-Turkey customs union because it would send the “wrong signal” to Turkey in light of recent events.

We will not exert extra efforts to continue the customs union agreement with Turkey,” added Merkel.

A German government paper obtained by Reuters mentioned a number of other measures it would like to see implemented at the European level to increase financial pressure on Turkey to respect the rule of law.

According to the paper, given developments in Turkey, pre-accession aid (IPA) should be targeted “even more towards supporting democracy and the rule of law.”

The paper also said the European Commission should look into suspending all pre-accession aid to Turkey if the need arises.

It added that Germany expected the commission to “shift funding away from Turkey in a way that is meaningful compared to the overall funding Turkey receives under the IPA schemes.”

Ankara’s relations with Berlin have been strained since Turkey’s crackdown on opposition groups, including journalists and human rights defenders, after a botched coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is believed to be detaining German journalists and human rights defenders to force the deportation from Germany of Turkish asylum seekers, who Erdoğan accuses of having mounted a botched coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Turkey claims some key suspects in the perpetration of the failed coup in 2016 fled to Germany and is demanding that Berlin hand them over to the Turkish judiciary. German authorities have not responded to Ankara amid reports of torture in Turkish jails, especially in the case of coup suspects.

Erdoğan accused Germany of assisting terrorists by failing to respond to Turkey’s requests to hand over suspects wanted by Turkish authorities.

The strained relations of the two countries resulted in the withdrawal of German troops from Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase after Turkey refused permission for German lawmakers to visit.

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