Erdoğan’s Germany visit “quintessential realpolitik” – scholar

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s scheduled visit to Germany in late September is a piece of “quintessential realpolitik,” but will take place under difficult circumstances for both parties, Carnegie Europe scholar Marc Pierini wrote in an article published on Tuesday.

Erdoğan will be received with full honours in Berlin despite the misgivings of Germany’s opposition parties and others in the country who have not forgotten the Turkish president’s rhetoric last year comparing contemporary Germany to the Nazi period.

Moreover, Turkey’s highly compromised rule of law and human rights issues have rendered its EU accession bid inactive, and the country’s stuttering economy has raised severe concerns in Germany, which has the highest number of companies in Turkey of any EU country.

For Turkey’s part, the meeting comes during a period of serious economic pressures in which the lira has lost around 40 percent of its value against the dollar since the start of the year. This is coupled with a diplomatic crisis that has pit it against its long-term allies in the United States.

“Relations with the United States are at a low point because of Turkey’s decisions to help Iran (in the fraudulent Zarrab-Halkbank case), to procure missiles from Russia (a no-go for the United States and NATO), and to use foreign prisoners as bargaining chips under the cover of an “independent judiciary” that no one believes in,” said Pierini.

“Yet, both sides want to nurture some sort of normalization of relations. This can occur only if all actors play it right,” the Carnegie scholar continued.

Among the most pressing concerns the pair will seek to tackle cooperatively is refugees, an issue on which Turkey has already signed a deal with the EU in March 2016.

Further work will likely be needed in the near future with the threatened assault on Idlib in Syria, which the Turkish foreign minister has warned could create a humanitarian catastrophe and millions of refugees.

“As the battle for the Idlib province in Syria turns violent, Germany and the EU will help with the wave of refugees now heading to the Turkish border. Here, too, cooperation is needed, not confrontation, all the more so that EU-origin jihadists are intent to make their way back to Turkey and Europe,” Pierini said.

Since Turkey’s EU accession bid may be dead in the water, a strategic partnership long touted by France and Germany could be a beneficial new direction in the relationship, the scholar said.

This partnership can begin on an economic footing with a modified customs union – but only if Turkey agrees to rules-based governance in economic, public procurement, competition, and labor areas.

“Once this is done, Berlin should accept the launching by the Commission of negotiations to modernize the Customs Union,” said Pierini.

“Talks are technically ready but politically blocked. As already stated by Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany and the EU have a lot to lose in a collapse of the Turkish economy. They want to help, but not at any price,” he added.

A final area that the leaders will need to come together on is personal trust, which has taken a beating in large part thanks to Erdoğan’s anti-Western rhetoric and resorts to conspiracy theories, some of which vilify Europe.

Despite this, the Turkish leader now has an opportunity to rebuild relations with Europe and strengthen Turkey’s economy at the price of “restoring rule of law in a number of areas, with both symbolic gestures and substantive improvements.”

“With the state visit to Berlin, German President Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel are taking an extraordinarily bold step and facing heavy criticism, including from non-Germans. But they are offering Turkey a unique chance. Take it, but don’t fake it,” Pierini said.