The German Foreign Ministry announced last week that Ankara had detained 12 German citizens, four of whom were citizens of both countries, on politically-motivated charges. The Foreign Ministry accused Turkey of making "incomprehensible" arrests and issued a travel warning for Germans not to visit.
Now, the usually restrained Merkel has publicly condemned Turkey and threatened reprisal. "Turkey is moving away from the path of the rule of law at a very fast speed," she said during a televised debate with her primary election rival Martin Schulz, promising to do all in her power to secure the release of the detained Germans.
With the German national election looming later this month, Merkel claimed that she might also use Germany's considerable international heft to suspend or kill talks to allow Turkey into the EU. "We will also — and I will suggest this takes place at the EU meeting in October — discuss future relations with Turkey, including the question of suspending or ending talks on accession," she said.
"I will push for a decisive stand… But we need to coordinate and work with our partners," Merkel said. The EU needs to remain unified, otherwise their position might be "dramatically weakened."
Turkey has been trying to join the EU for nearly 30 years. In 2016, Turkey was judged to have fulfilled 11 of the EU's 33 requirements for entry, with significant progress made on 19 other requirements.
Then the 2016 Turkish coup occurred, when a branch of the Turkish military attempted to seize control of the country from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The coup failed, and since then Ankara has purged dissenting elements in Turkish society under accusations of being connected to the coup. Tens of thousands have been arrested and hundreds of thousands of others fired, mostly educators, police officers and soldiers.
The large-scale crackdown did not go over well with Brussels, and the European Parliament suspended Turkish accession talks in November 2016. After a constitutional referendum greatly expanded Erdogan's powers in April 2017, the EU then voted to reopen the monitoring process against Turkey.
Ankara continues to hold that they desire membership in the EU.