Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will come to Germany next month to campaign for a referendum aimed at granting his presidency extended powers, German tabloid Bild has reported.
The Turkish head of state will hold a rally next month in western Germany after an official visit in Strasbourg, a French city located just across the border between both countries, Bild reported, citing a high-ranking diplomat from Ankara.
Mr. Erdogan will “promote the presidential system at an event in North Rhine-Westphalia, the exact location of which has not yet been established,” the diplomat said. The spokesman of the Turkish embassy in Berlin did not confirm the report.
There are 1.4 million Turkish voters residing in Germany. Many of them live in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, home to the cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf as well as the industrial Ruhr region.
Due to the increasing tensions between Berlin and Ankara, German politicians have reacted with unease to downright hostility at the report.
“Erdogan must accept that he can be criticized in Germany and that his critics are not traitors to the homeland or terror activists”
The government’s integration commissioner, Aydan Özoguz, said that “everyone should campaign solely in their own country.” Such events are toxic in Germany and harm peaceful coexistence, Ms. Özoguz told regional daily Ruhr Nachrichten.
Sven Lehmann, the chairman of North Rhine-Westphalia’s chapter of the Green party, which governs the state in a coalition with the Social Democrats, accused Mr. Erdogan of polarizing Turkey and undermining fundamental rights in his country. “The federal government should make it clear that no anti-democratic events are to be held here,” Mr. Lehmann said.
Gökay Sofuoğlu, the chairman of the Turkish community in Germany, has spoken out against trying to prevent Mr. Erdogan from holding a campaign event, arguing that Germany’s democratic institutions are strong enough. But he added that “Erdogan must accept that he can be criticized in Germany and that his critics are not traitors to the homeland or terror activists.”
Turkish voters will decide on April 16 on a constitutional reform pushed by Mr. Erdogan’s party, the AKP, making Turkey a presidential republic with greatly increased powers for the president.
Just last Saturday, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, held a speech in front of 10,000 supporters gathered in an arena in Oberhausen, a city in the Ruhr region.
In an address with highly patriotic overtones, Mr. Yildirim told supporters that if they love their country, they have to vote yes.
For many German politicians, this campaign rally was nothing short of unacceptable.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas was highly critical of the event, especially in light of the recent arrest of Deniz Yücel, a journalist with German and Turkish dual citizenship, on terrorism charges in Istanbul just days before Mr. Yildirim’s speech in Oberhausen.
“Whoever demands the right to free speech from us should also respect the rule of law and freedom of the press,” Mr. Maas said.
Under the new system, Mr. Erdogan, who was elected president three years ago after serving as prime minister since 2002, could stay in power until 2029. Many observers worry that the reform would usher in a Turkish autocracy.