EINDHOVEN, Netherlands – Despite increasing discord between the European Union and Turkey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel lauded Ankara’s commitment to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis and said her weekend trip to the Turkish-Syrian border will be used to raise all contentious issues between the two sides.
At the end of a Netherlands-Germany summit, Merkel’s Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte did raise tensions with Turkey again when he said his ambassador in Ankara would demand clarifications following reports that a Turkish consulate in the Netherlands was urging the Turkish community to report insults to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the nation.
“It is not clear to the Dutch government what the Turkish government wants to achieve with this action. It is not a good thing and our ambassador will ask for clarification from the Turkish authorities,” Rutte said.
It was the latest in a series of wrangles with Turkey which have increasingly put the March 18 EU-Turkey refugee deal under pressure. The agreement allows irregular migrants to be sent back to Turkey while EU funds refugee projects there and grants Ankara other concessions.
The German government on Friday granted a Turkish request to allow the possible prosecution of a German TV comedian who wrote a crude poem about Turkey’s president, an awkward decision for Merkel as she seeks Ankara’s help in reducing Europe’s migrant influx.
Merkel said that during Saturday’s visit “all political issues will certainly be raised” with Turkish authorities.
Earlier, Merkel was honoured Thursday for her leadership in a series of crises that have hit Europe in recent years, from the financial meltdown to the migration influx.
Rutte lauded Merkel as she was presented with the International Four Freedoms Award at a ceremony in the southern Dutch city of Middelburg.
In her acceptance speech, the German leader said the migration crisis “touches our European values in a special way.”
She praised the EU’s deal she helped to broker with Turkey on the return and admission of migrants, a key measure in the continent’s efforts to stem the flow of people fleeing conflict, poverty and persecution.
“Too many people already lost their lives during their escape,” Merkel said. “The EU-Turkey agreement therefore really didn’t come soon enough. It is now important that we continue our efforts, especially when it comes to a fair distribution of refugees in Europe and a common approach against the roots of escape and expulsion.”
She said that the decrease in the number of migrants making their way into the European heartland since the EU-Turkey agreement was reached gave the EU a window to finally deal with the crisis, which has been one of the worst the 28-nation bloc has dealt with over the past decades.
Four Freedoms medals are presented in alternate years by the Dutch-based Roosevelt Foundation and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in New York.
The Dutch foundation said in Europe’s migration crisis, “Merkel is committed to Europe’s humanitarian duty to protect those fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and to tackle the causes of the crisis by working for peace in Syria and the region.”
Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.