The German chancellor's statement comes ahead of elections and reflects an apparent shift of her position on Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

German chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and her opponent Martin Schulz, leader of Germany’s social democratic SPD party during a TV debate on September 3, 2017.
German chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and her opponent Martin Schulz, leader of Germany’s social democratic SPD party during a TV debate on September 3, 2017. (AFP screenshot)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would seek to end Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union.

Merkel’s latest statement made during a televised debate weeks before elections reflects an apparent shift of her position on the matter.

“The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” Merkel said in the debate with her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz.

“I’ll speak to my (EU) colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks,” Merkel added.

The comments are likely to worsen already strained ties between the two NATO allies in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July last year.

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood has more on the debate.

Merkel’s comments came after Schulz appeared to surprise her by vowing to push for an end to the negotiations if he was elected chancellor in the September 24 federal election.

“If I become German chancellor, if the people of this country give me a mandate, then I will propose to the European Council that we end the membership talks with Turkey,” Schulz said.

“Whether we can win over all the countries for this I don’t know. But I will fight for this.”

Merkel initially cautioned against such a move, saying it would be irresponsible to endanger ties with Turkey.

“I do not intend to break off diplomatic relations with Turkey just because we’re in an election campaign and want to show each other who is tougher,” she said.

But after the moderators had moved on and asked the two candidates a question about US President Donald Trump, Merkel returned to the Turkey issue, suddenly throwing her weight behind an end to the membership talks.

Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has long opposed Turkish membership in the EU.

But the green light for membership talks was given months before Merkel became chancellor in 2005 and she has always said that she will respect that decision, referring to the negotiations as “open ended.”

Berlin's relationship with Ankara has been strained since the July 2016 coup attempt, when alleged coup plotters found safe haven in Germany.

Berlin also angered Ankara with its banning of rallies by Turkish politicians campaigning in Germany ahead of a referendum in April on changing Turkey to a presidential from a parliamentary system of governance.

Merkel ahead in polls

Merkel was some 14 points ahead of Martin Schulz in opinion polls before the debate. 

A survey by Infratest Dimap for ARD television showed her overall performance was viewed as more convincing by 55 percent, compared to 35 percent for Schulz.

Three weeks from voting day, centre-left contender Schulz went on the offensive from the outset of the 97-minute debate – his only televised duel with Merkel, who looked rattled at times but showed enough authority to win.

In their exchange on Trump and North Korea, Schulz accused the US president of “bringing the world to the brink of crisis with his tweets” and said Germany should work with its European partners, Canada, Mexico and Trump’s domestic US opponents.

Merkel, seeking a fourth term, said she had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron about North Korea on Sunday and would talk to Trump as well as leaders from Russia, China, Japan and South Korea in the coming days.

“I don’t think that one can solve this conflict without the American President,” she said. 

“But I think one must say in the clearest terms that for us, there can only be a peaceful diplomatic solution.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies