The German masquerade of ‘engaging Turkey’

So, once again the Turkey appeaser of Europe, the Bundesrepublic Deutschland, in its capacity as the short-term presidency holder of the European Union, is volunteering to de-escalate the warlike situation in eastern Mediterranean by engaging Ankara. This, after two failures!

The first one was made by the Chancellor herself when the Turkish warships reversed their course towards Kastellorizo until Angela Merkel’s best friend Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got upset with the perfectly legitimate maritime demarcation agreement between Egypt and Greece and reordered the Turkish Navy to proceed with its activities in the region.

The second initiative was led by the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas but didn’t go anywhere as the top diplomat gave up by recommending the Mediterranean neighbours to sit and talk. This time apparently, Merkel is back in the scene of diplomacy and engaging Erdoğan, in coordination with the Americans.

Germany has a gargantuan task with a very slim chance of success. Let’s go through the odds.

First and foremost, this is the latest in a two-century-old feud between Greece and Turkey. There are no quick fixes there.

Secondly, Germany will be dealing with fellow EU member state Greece and Turkey, a former EU candidate country which has de facto befallen to the third-country status for the 27-member bloc. This restrains Berlin’s diplomatic manoeuvrability as Germany and Greece (as well as Cyprus) are on the same footing in the European Council. It is highly inadequate to mediate between a third country and a fellow member state unless Berlin acts in the name of the European Union.

That is far from clear. Merkel’s recent statements at the Gymnich meeting that “we will not tolerate a threat to the sovereignty of EU Member States” were several clicks higher than the statements made so far by German officials. Nevertheless her quasi-natural bias towards Erdoğan’s Turkey that I extensively examined in another piece makes her “honest brokership” highly dubious.

Thirdly, it is quite unusual to see Germany getting involved for peace-making in warlike situations around the world. The role traditionally goes – besides the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross – to Norway, Switzerland or specialised community services offices like the Community of Sant’Egidio. Within this framework, Germany shines with its lack of institutional memory regarding the conflict between Greece and Turkey.

Fourthly, Germany’s basic assumptions regarding the causes of the present face-off are simply false. Although no one denies the existence of deep disagreements between Turkey and Greece, there is a tendency to situate both countries on the same footing as though they have started the present standoff together.

Alas, the Ankara regime is the party that initiated the hostile action, however it may have reasonable claims for the sharing of maritime resources in the eastern Mediterranean. It chose “gunboat diplomacy” after having unilaterally withdrawn from the so-called “exploratory talks” between two countries in 2016, as a response to Athens’ principled position on not returning eight Turkish asylum seekers following the so-called coup d’état, and after having succumbed to the irredentist drive by ultranationalist retired admirals through their “Blue Homeland” nonsense.

Moreover, it is Turkey who desperately searches for natural gas and oil everywhere it can whereas Greece has no such activity.

And in the long run, Ankara’s objectives go even beyond these short-term aims to encompass a regional imperialism in the sub-region.

By equating the two protagonists, Germany misses to identify the culprit and thus misses the chances to initiate a peaceful outcome. To the contrary, equating accountability gives Ankara the liberty to continue to impose its pre-conditions – be it regarding its unlawful presence in Greece’s territorial waters or its claims to widen the agenda of prospective talks from maritime disputes to any and every controversial matter that exists between the two countries.

According to the pro-regime Yeni Şafak newspaper on Monday: “Ankara is planning to extend the Navtex reserving disputed parts of the eastern Mediterranean for energy exploration by its Oruç Reis survey ship from September 10 to September 25”.

Fifthly, Germany’s willingness to use certain tools to push a reconciliation agreement is inadequate. This includes cutting short of using the most efficient tool the EU has in its hands: its customs union with Turkey – the country’s economic lifeline.

Along the same lines, Germany’s disagreement with France to militarily confront Ankara’s expansionism weakens its negotiating position tremendously.

Germany has become a prisoner of an unproductive Turkish appeasement policy over years as it is wary of losing “NATO partner” Turkey to Russia, jeopardising Germany’s economic interests in Turkey, risking the 2016 refugee policing deal with Ankara and antagonising the Turkish diaspora in Germany. Additionally, the century-old pro-Turkey stance of the German state, particularly since the Armenian Genocide and the “honest brokership”, is gone with the wind.

This is how I warned about the sceptre of appeasement policy emerging in the West in my first piece in Ahval on Nov. 2, 2017: “As for the containment of the fascist regime in Ankara, in the lack of any concrete leverage there are no quick fixes. The only principle though, should be the avoidance of appeasement with that kind of regime, unlike in Munich in 1938.”

Let’s recall a timely quote by the French historian Pierre Menerat, who, in his recent article on the German neutrality, refers to Chateaubriand who writes in his 1811 Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem: “There are two kinds of neutrality: one which defends everything, the other one which allows everything. Neutrality which defends everything can have drawbacks: it can in certain cases lack generosity, but it is strictly fair. The neutrality which allows everything is a merchant, venal, self-interested neutrality: when the belligerent parties are unequal in power, this neutrality, veritable derision, is hostility for the weak party, just as it is collusion for the strong party. It would be better to openly join the oppressor against the oppressed, because at least one would not add hypocrisy to injustice.”

Finally, let’s remember three fundamental features regarding the nature of Ankara regime:

Erdoğan lives with conflicts, not without them!

The problems the Ankara regime is generating cannot be resolved without an end of this regime!

Appeasing Erdoğan runs the risk of collusion and complicity with his regime!

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