London—German Chancellor Angela Merkel should step down. Once Europe’s only forthright and decisive leader, she has become a groveling embarrassment and a danger by caving into Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by letting a possible prosecution of a German comic go ahead in German courts.
The comedian read a vulgar poem about Erdogan on ZDF television on March 31. Erdogan sued under an archaic German law which bans insulting foreign representatives. But the case could only go ahead with Merkel’s permission.
She gave it, while in the same breath saying how she’d like to overturn the law. How about just not enforcing it.
Only last year, terrorists killed 11 editors and staff and one policeman at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Merkel has now decided that a foreign dictator can decide what humor is permissible in her own country. Is this the same Merkel who stood up to Vladimir Putin over his covert invasion of Ukraine?
This action follows numerous blunders by the leader of European Union’s political lynchpin and the continent’s biggest economy. First, by letting the Greek debt crisis stumble from non-solution to non-solution, she weakened not only the Eurozone but the EU as a whole. Merkel took Greece to task on moral grounds, as if German banks, for instance, had no idea Greece was a bad loan risk. She, along with corrupt Greek leaders, consigned Greeks to a generation of poverty so the bankers would be paid off.
Last year, she opened Germany’s borders to a million migrants on the grounds that Germany had some sort of moral duty to accept infinite numbers and expected the rest of Europe, though reeling from recession and tensions over terrorism, to go along. It didn’t. Merkel had to backtrack and begin deporting refugees, as Germans themselves became horrified at the numbers and began to support Trump-like right wingers.
The immigration misstep led to a deal with Erdogan. To stop the smuggling, the EU came up with three billion Euros for Turkey, eventual visa-free travel for Turks in Europe, and maybe EU membership. All was good until a crude German satirist named Jan Böhmermann made fun of Erdogan on TV.
Turkey is a polarized country beset by an ethnic conflict with its Kurdish population, saddled with Erdogan’s support of terrorist groups Syria, and uneasy with Erdogan’s efforts to expand his executive power at home. So to ease Turkey’s own refugee crisis, Erdogan was happy to let smugglers run rampant on Turkey’s coast, and shuttle migrants off to Greece unless they drowned when their rickety boats and rafts sank. Turkey grants only conditional refugee status, humanitarian residence permit, or temporary protection to migrants, which means people who qualify for protection may stay in Turkey for a while but ultimately find a long-term solution somewhere else. They do not have the ability to integrate into Turkish society.
Erdogan has plenty of experience in oppressing dissidents: raiding media offices, accusing reporters of being spies, seizing an opposition newspaper, expelling foreign correspondents. And this guy wants to get Turkey into the EU!
He had already complained to Germany’s ambassador in Ankara about a previous satirical video that criticized him for repressing free speech and other sins.
Of course to offend the easily-offended Erdogan risked blowing up the deal on refugees. And how would Barack Obama react if his once favorite Muslim world leader decided to evict the US from the big Turkish air base at Incirlik if he decided to back a Merkel free speech stand? Obama (using a century-old anti-espionage law to hammer them) is not shy about persecuting whistleblowers who leak stuff to the press, so who knows?
Europe and the US have more leverage on Turkey than they seem willing to use, even minimally. At the least, they could curb quietly trade and tourism if Erdogan reneged on the refugee deal, make it clear that he doesn’t run Europe and just stop pandering.
All this just to defend free speech in Germany? As Merkel herself might have said in one of her self-righteous moods, European values are at stake. Germans should find someone else to defend them.
Spiegel lays out Merkel’s dilemma.
What I wrote about Erdogan undercutting Merkel and cowing Europe.