From Bismarck to Merkel
“Turks and Germans loved each other for a long time,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a visit to Berlin in 2018. He was citing the historic words of Germany’s first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, which still seem to determine Berlin’s policy on Ankara. We should recognize this reality as we enter a new geopolitical era, without succumbing to sentimentalism and spasmodic reactions.
Germany sees Turkey as belonging to its traditional sphere of influence. It deems that the two countries share a large number of key interests. The way in which the mass influx of refugees/migrants destabilized Germany has left a mark on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her aides.
She believes that Greece may have succeeded in neutralizing Turkey’s efforts to weaponize refugees along the Evros border, but she also believes that it will not be able to do so again, especially in the Aegean Sea.
Furthermore, she deems that Nicosia took drastic action with regard to energy exploration and that it did so without the proper consideration of the implications and the reaction from Erdoğan.
This is the prism through which Berlin sees Greek-Turkish affairs. Germany gets frustrated with the French when they push things with Ankara.
It does not understand why Greece has to spend so much on defence, particularly on non-German systems, as it considers Greece a small, bankrupt country.
It would like Athens to accept a comprehensive compromise settlement in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean without going into much detail about which side is right. It is a square, inflexible logic.
And it will not change until the end of Merkel’s tenure, and certainly not in view of elections where the Turkish minority has a role to play in the final outcome.
Greece is not, and it should not be, looking to build alliances with Turkey’s enemies. What it is looking for is partners who are aware of the danger of Ankara’s revisionism, as it is challenging the sovereign rights of an EU country while seeking to assert its full hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Germans were ahead of themselves once in former Yugoslavia because they did not possess the geopolitical maturity to be patient and examine the consequences of their actions.
As far as Greek-Turkish relations are concerned, it has to be said that Merkel played a positive role because she was the only Western leader who could, and wanted, to pick up the phone and speak with Erdoğan. At some crucial moments perhaps she even stopped him from pulling the trigger.
That said, Berlin and Paris are on completely different pages. And this probably applies to the officials of the Biden administration who are realizing that the Erdoğan of 2021 is not the Erdoğan they knew back in 2016.
A key problem remains that the existing EU leadership is largely guided by German interests – with whatever implications this has for Greek foreign policy.
(A version of this article was originally published by Kathimerini and reproduced by permission.)