EU officials said on Thursday (February 3rd) they had asked Turkey’s chief negotiator with the 27-nation bloc to clarify his remark this week that rising racism in Europe could lead to a replication of “the facist methods of the 1930s”.
Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis made the statement during a Holocaust commemoration ceremony at the former Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, on Tuesday.
“The EU, founded in order to eliminate the threats of that period to peace, is today under the risk of being overtaken by a racist mentality that cannot internalise its own values and emulates the fascist methods of 1930s,” the Turkish official said.
“Unfortunately, today Turkey and the Turkish people in Europe bear the consequences of being different … Turkish people, implicitly or openly, are being told this: ‘You are different and you have no place among us’,” media reports quoted the official transcript of his statement as reading. “Those who have racist and distorted mentalities have no right to degrade democracy and the philosophy of the EU.”
Those remarks raised eyebrows in Brussels and prompted an “immediate” reaction by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who called Bagis, asking him to clarify.
“Bagis explained to the commissioner that his words were intended to express his concern at the rising role of some extremist groups in the EU and … that this could contribute to a potential lessening of tolerance towards minorities,” Natasha Butler, Fuele’s spokeswoman, told reporters Thursday.
“The commissioner was grateful for this clarification,” she added, noting however that Bagis’s statement would have sounded less confusing if it was better phrased.
“Clearly the original words could have been better chosen and could have avoided any potential misunderstanding, which was all the more important given the timing and of course the location of their pronouncement,” Butler said.
Some Turks also found the minister’s statement as misplaced.
Kader Sevinc, the representative of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party to the EU, viewed the remarks as “superficial”.
“We should not generalise these destructive trends in European politics,” EurActiv, a Brussels-based independent news portal dedicated to EU affairs, quoted her as saying. “We are confident that Europe will overcome the present difficulties and prove once more the universal value of its democracy. This is why a majority of the member states and wide political circles in each EU member country support Turkish membership on the basis of rational arguments.”
A day after Bagis’s statement in Auschwitz, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also voiced Ankara’s concern about the potential impact of the spread of racism in Europe, according to Turkish daily Zaman.
Speaking after talks with Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal in Ankara on Wednesday, he said “we must work together on immigration and integration to stop xenophobia in Europe and prevent its damage to European values”.
According to Bagis, “the best response” to the growing racism in Europe lies in greater support for and further development of the principles of democracy and EU values.
“The only remedy for this distorted mentality is Turkey’s accession to the EU,” he said in Auschwitz.