ISTANBUL (AP) — The European Union’s top envoy to Turkey has resigned, less than a year into the job, after falling out with officials in Ankara at a critical juncture in EU-Turkey relations.
The EU delegation in Ankara said Tuesday that Ambassador Hansjoerg Haber, a German career diplomat, was leaving his post, without giving any reason. The spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs and security policy confirmed he would leave the position on Aug. 1.
“All the necessary steps are being taken to swiftly appoint a new ambassador,” Maja Kocijancic said.
Turkey’s recently appointed minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, said there was no point in Haber continuing to serve in Turkey because he had caused offense at the highest level.
“The first rule that a diplomat must certainly know and abide by is to respect the values of the countries they serve in as well as … to respect the office of the president,” said Celik. “He violated those two basic rules.”
Haber had angered Turkish government officials last month after he criticized Turkey’s reluctance to meet the remaining criteria for its citizens to benefit from a visa-free deal, and reportedly quoted a German expression, “to start like a Turk and finish like a German.”
He was called to Turkey’s foreign ministry and asked to explain his words, which evoked negative cultural stereotypes.
Haber was previously posted in Ankara between 1993 and 1996 as a German diplomat. He returned as head of the EU delegation to Ankara in September 2015.
The veteran diplomat’s resignation comes at a sensitive and turbulent time in EU-Turkish relations as the bloc recently brokered a high-stakes deal with Turkey to curb illegal migration.
The agreement called for irregular migrants who arrived in the Greek islands from Turkey after March 20 to be sent back to Turkey.
The EU, in turn, is to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkey to the bloc for each Syrian that Greece returns to Turkey. Turkey also stands to receive up to 6 billion euros ($6.71 billion), visa-free travel and fast track negotiations on EU accession.
Visa-free travel to Europe, however, is conditioned on Turkey amending its anti-terrorism laws among other criteria.
That requirement has proved a sticking point and the subject of sharp exchanges between EU and Turkish officials. Ankara argues it cannot narrow its laws when it faces the twin threats of Islamic State and Kurdish rebels.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Tuesday stressed the laws would not be amended.
“Changing the anti-terror law can never, under any condition, ever, be a point of discussion for us,” he said.
Brussels worries that the existing legislation is too sweeping and plays a role in restricting dissent and media freedom.
Fraser reporter from Ankara.