Erdoğan must focus on Merkel in controversial visit

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan must focus on placating German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to the country starting on Thursday, even as talks are overshadowed by angry protesters and disturbed German politicians, Bobby Ghosh wrote in a column for Bloomberg.

Erdoğan is used to warmer receptions on his travels, which have recently included the Turkish-speaking republics of Central Asia, and the visit will test his reserves of patience. Such characteristics are not his strongest suit,  said Ghosh, a member of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

 “He desperately needs better economic and political ties to Europe, and especially with Germany,” Ghosh said, pointing to frayed relations with the United States and a financial crisis at home.

 “Erdoğan’s economic woes will not win him much sympathy in Germany, where authorities are anticipating angry demonstrations. In Berlin and Cologne — where Erdoğan will inaugurate a mosque — tens of thousands are expected to join protest marches.”

But his main purpose must be to focus on improving relations with Merkel, who is likely to take a firm line in the discussions in light of Turkey’s deteriorating record on human rights and democracy under Erdoğan, Ghosh said.

Several German politicians have already rejected to attend a state banquet in Erdoğan’s honour, while others say they will attend to defend democracy and defy Erdoğan. Those include Cem Ozdemir, a well-respected German politician of Turkish origin who has been accused by Turkey of supporting terrorism.

“Attendees will not have forgotten Erdoğan’s incendiary condemnations of German policies in recent years, in particular his use of the term Nazi when describing a 2017 decision by German municipal authorities to cancel rallies by two of his cabinet ministers,” Ghosh said.

Merkel is poised to take into account long-standing economic relations between the two countries, along with Germany’s large Turkish population and the continuing threat of a flow of refugees from Syria into Europe.

“She is signaling that she is willing to start talking, but the risk is that (Erdoğan) will see this as some kind of victory,” said Marc Pierini, former EU ambassador to Turkey and a scholar at Carnegie Europe. “This should not be mistaken for normalization: It is an initial investment toward normalization.”

Merkel has also been asked by her political allies to bring up a range of issues including the fate of German nationals detained in Turkey, the state of the country’s democracy, and human rights.

“Erdoğan has tended to bristle whenever these issues have been raised,” Ghosh said. “But his country’s best interests would better be served by a show of presidential humility.”