Turkey criticizes Merkel’s remarks on customs union, calls them ‘unfortunate’

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Turkey's EU Minister Omer Celik delivers a speech during a press conference on European Union (EU)'s report on Turkish candidacy for EU, on November 9, 2016 in Ankara. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

Turkish Minister for European Union Affairs Ömer Çelik said on Thursday that remarks made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on not expanding a customs union between Turkey and EU are unfortunate.

Merkel said on Wednesday that the EU cannot continue expanding the customs union with Turkey unless tensions with Turkey ease and underlined that there would be “no kind of deepening at all” in Turkey-EU ties.

Çelik criticized Merkel for making statements which, he said, are harming the credibility of the EU and added: “This is an unfortunate statement. We should emphasize that no EU member should give orders to EU institutions or regarding EU processes.”

Referring to gains that would be derived from the expansion of the customs union, Çelik said halting the update of the customs union would not be to the benefit of Turkey.

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.

Çelik also asked Germany to support Turkey in the extradition of a prime suspect in an attempted coup last summer, Adil Öksüz.

In response to a diplomatic note from Turkey that asked Germany to confirm whether media reports claiming that Öksüz is in Germany are accurate and to return him to Turkey in the event he is found there, Berlin said on Wednesday there is no information that confirms that Öksüz is in Germany.

“No ally of ours can harbor a killer. Even the possibility of someone with a clear tie to the coup attempt being harbored by our ally is saddening, “said the minister.

Pro-government Turkish media claimed that Öksüz, who was detained on the night of the coup and later released by a court, was taken to Germany by two people. He was spotted in Frankfurt and Ulm and requested temporary residence in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The daily said that German police approved Öksüz’s application but did not officially register his name.

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

Turkey claims some key suspects in the perpetration of the coup 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.

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.

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 between 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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