Ali Yurttagül
Sep 26 2018

Will Erdoğan be able to get his way in Berlin?

It seems like details of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's official visit to Berlin is slowly taking shape according to both Berlin insiders and the Turkish media.

The Mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker confirmed that the President's visit will not be limited to Berlin, Erdoğan will officially open a new central mosque in the western German city of Cologne to meet with his "voter base.'

Erdoğan's proposal to visit Cologne to meet with the local Turkish-Islamic community has been creating some problems for Berlin. A poll by the Bild newspaper said that an overwhelming majority of the local population is opposed to such a meeting. Erdoğan is expected to be met with protests in Cologne.

Back to our question; it looks like Erdoğan will get his way on many issues in Berlin, but not all of them. Let's begin with the positives.

Berlin's approval of Erdoğan's Cologne visit proves the German administration's willingness to please the Turkish President. Berlin wanted this visit to be a “working" visit, later agreed on an "official" visit yielding to Ankara's pressure.

After his visiting Paris and London, Erdoğan will be hosted in Berlin, another critical capital in Europe. A politician who has been demurred by European capitals for years and who is not very popular in Europe (in Erdoğan's opinion) being hosted by these governments is a positive development and a diplomatic success on its own.

Berlin wants this visit to be successful for two main reasons, and not merely because of the three million German-Turks. Turkey is essential for Europe's security, it's energy supply and on refugee issues. Hence Berlin wants to go back to having a constructive dialogue with Ankara.

Add to that the thousands (the number is said to be over 7000) of German companies that have investments in Turkey.

The surge in Swiss Franc or speculation that some European banks might have to Turkish banks is not merely a coincidence.

Berlin wants Turkey to be a stable and developing country. The German government believes that stability and growth in Turkey will benefit Germany, despite what the Turkish President and his advisers think.

Hence Berlin is trying its best to embrace Erdoğan and please him. The government is preparing the public for this visit, despite the almost universal dislike for the visitor. Practically all Berlin insiders are saying a variation of these words; "Turkey is an important country. We have to continue the dialogue between countries, even if it has to be with Erdoğan."

In short, Berlin opened its doors for inter-governmental communication with Erdoğan. As for the question of whether the Turkish president can get anything other than an opportunity to return to the international political arena, the answer is, unfortunately, quite complicated. It is difficult because even if these two governments can agree on issues like the Syrian-Idlib crisis or refugee crisis, it is quite hard for them to reach inter-governmental agreements on human rights, detained Germans, relations with the EU, the visa issue and the Customs Union.

Despite all these challenges, the visit might have a positive impact on these critical issues. But this positive effect depends on Ankara's ability to understand Brussels and Berlin and respond efficiently and effectively. I'm not optimistic about that.

Berlin is an important capital. Not only because it represents a significant portion of Turkey's international trade, 26 percent, but also to balance the Donald Trump factor. The devaluation of lira might stop after Erdoğan's visit to Berlin, for example.

There are other positive policy changes as well, for example, Berlin toned down it travel warning and lifted the limits on the Hermes export credit guarantees issued by the German Federal Government. If we still had the conditions at the peak of the crisis between two countries when the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Greens were proclaimed as enemies of the Turkish Republic when Mrs Merkel was portrayed as the new-era-Hitler in the Turkish pro-government media, these economic sanctions would solidly stay in place.

Now, these two countries are talking about solidarity, not sanctions. Even the discourse has changed. Have you heard Erdoğan ranting about Europe recently?

The German government has a big say in issues like the Customs Union to renegotiations and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. But the German government makes it very clear that a resolution in these matters is only possible if Turkey improves its human rights and rule-of-law record.

Is it possible for Turkey to improve its fundamental rights record with Erdoğan, his coalition partner nationalist Devlet Bahçeli, and socialist nationalist Doğu Perinçek at the helm? I do not think so. Even if the official statement includes an understanding of these issues, it will be nothing but lip service under these circumstances.

If you want a measure of how far Turkey deviated from its course; it is quite a few steps down from 2016.

Yes, the EU Reform Action Group met for the first time after three years. And yes, it was an essential break from the past few years. But as a matter of fact, the Justice Minister and Interior Ministers who met on August 29 for this meeting and promised reforms of the judiciary and more, are the problem. How can they be a part of the solution? I doubt that these ministers understand or even comprehend the extent of the problem.

Will the German banks extend more credit to Turkey? Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who oversees the Turkish economy, was in Berlin last week with the Minister of Trade and Energy to prepare the groundwork for Erdoğan's visit. It is not a coincidence that the ministers responsible for the economy were preparing the foundation and not the ministry of foreign affairs.

Behind closed doors, Turkey's currency crisis is the most critical issue. No doubt these Turkish officials are in Germany to negotiate a deal for an aid package to deal with Turkey's current financial woes.

Even though the Turkish officials portrayed a more positive picture after the meetings, the German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier claimed that the parties did not talk about Turkey's financial issues and said that Mrs Merkel and President Erdoğan will discuss them during their meeting.

I personally don't believe that the Economy ministers of these two nations did not discuss Turkey's financial issues during the bilateral meeting. I think that the German minister clearly conveyed the terms for Germany's financial aid, some of them very tough for the Turkish government to agree to, during his meeting with minister Albayrak and his colleagues. I think Ankara found itself in a very tough spot.

Tough because as a senior German bureaucrat told me, "Turkey's financial problems are beyond Germany's capacity to help". Even the rounded number he stated, 50 billion Euros emergency funds is beyond German capacity.  And Turkish debt to Germany is three times this number.

It would also be tough to explain lending that much money to Turkey to the German public since Turkey is not even an EU member country. Activating instruments such as the European Central Bank, which helped the Greeks during their financial crisis is quite tricky as well, especially since Austria is currently holding the presidency of the Bank.

Hence, I believe that Berlin suggested the supervision of IMF just like they did for the Greek financial crisis. An international organisation like the IMF taking the lead would not only help the German government justify their aid to Turkey for their public, but also could bring other EU countries on board.

Then there is the ''trust issue,'' one of the main reasons for the recent collapse of the Turkish Lira. Erdoğan's statements on the independence of the Turkish central bank, the arbitrary appropriations of the assets of private companies and individuals, the lack of an independent judiciary makes an IMF intervention almost impossible.

Athens still under the inspection of not only the IMF, but even more rigid EU auditors. Erdoğan is well known for his hatred of institutional oversight. How is he going to respond to international monitoring? I think that's the main problem.

There is also a second problem that makes it difficult for the IMF to step in. At least for now. One of Erdoğan's most proud achievements was extending credit to the IMF. He finds it very difficult to ask for their aid now. We will see how Erdoğan will approach Berlin's suggestion for an IMF programme.

In summary, Turkish President Erdoğan's visit to Germany is clouded by the daily news coming from Turkey; a continuous stream of arrests, unlawful judicial decisions and increasing oppression of the political opposition.

I am excitedly waiting for the talks as well. But if the joint-statement says nothing about economic aid, we should know that Ankara rejected Berlin's proposals.

How about human rights, the rule of law, and similar problems in Turkey? Ankara can solve these problems if it wants to. The Turkish government does not need outside help to overcome these problems...

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.