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Oct 05 2018

Turkey learns its limits in Germany

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan completed the long-awaited official visit to Germany last week.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at the dinner he organised in Erdoğan’s honour, said everything in words as plain as possible. He drew attention to opposition activists subjected to intense pressure in Turkey, adding that these facts cannot be ignored in their talks, and he expressed his expectation that Turkey should return to normality. Such words force the limits of diplomatic etiquette, but German speechwriters might have thought that, if drafted in politer words, the message might not get through.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after praising Turkish-German relations, did not mince her words either. Her talks with Erdoğan included subjects ranging from re-energising Turkey-Germany relations, to Turkey-EU relations, strengthening Turkey’s economy, Syrian refugees, the need for over-hauling the transatlantic security structure, the extradition of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists living in Germany, problems related to supporters of the U.S. based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen in Germany, solidarity in facing U.S. sanctions on Iran, Turkey’s records on democracy and human rights, and many others.     

Concrete but modest progress was achieved on many of these subjects. On the reactivation of Turkey’s EU accession process Merkel is, for Turkey, both a good and bad address. Good address, because no important initiative can be taken in the EU without German support. It is also bad address, because the first and biggest opponent of Turkey’s full EU membership is Merkel, who has proposed giving Turkey a privileged partnership, rather than full membership.

Two subjects are important under title of Turkey-EU relations: visa facilitation and updating the free trade area agreement between Turkey and the EU. Erdoğan promised that Turkey would fulfil the remaining six criteria required for visa facilitation. On the updating of the Free Trade Agreement, Germany admits that the agreement causes unjustified damage to Turkey’s economy, but still drags its feet.

Germany did not hesitate to support Turkey’s economy, because it has big commercial interests in Turkey. More than 7,000 German companies operate in Turkey.

On PKK terrorists, Merkel admitted German authorities have to do more to prevent the PKK supporters harming Turkey’s interests in Germany, but did not propose any concrete step.  This subject may therefore continue to inch toward improvement, but no immediate outcome can be expected.

On the Gülen issue, Merkel said Germany needed more evidence.

On Iran sanctions, there may be room for cooperation between Turkey and Iran.  

On Turkey’s poor human rights records, Germany remained unmoved. Both Steinmeier and Merkel said human rights and democracy are the basics of Turkey’s relations with the international community, including Germany.  

In his response to Merkel, Erdoğan remained undeterred on almost all issues. On the PKK terrorists, he was rightly more defiant, because Germany considers the PKK a terrorist organisation and there are arrest warrants by the Turkish judiciary for PKK members living in Germany, so he said German authorities had no excuse to decline Turkey’s requests for their extradition.

On the other side of the coin, there are some setbacks: German newspaper Bild said Erdoğan was ready to call off a news conference after talks with Merkel if the Turkish journalist Can Dündar was going to attend. Dündar stayed away saying he did not want to give Erdoğan an excuse not to face critical questions from German colleagues.

Setback continued in Cologne where Erdoğan went for the inauguration of a mosque by a Turkey-supported institution, DITIB. DITIB estimated 25,000 Turks would attend the event, but the Cologne city council refused to allow a major outdoor rally and the event took place as an indoor event with 500 invited guests.

Cologne Mayor Henrietta Reker and North Rhine Westphalia Prime Minister Armin Laschet declined Erdoğan’s invitation to attend the opening.

The owner of a historical castle where Erdoğan-Laschet talks were due to be held refused to host the meeting.

Erdoğan must have been ill advised by his colleagues who were involved in the preparation of the Cologne leg of the trip. Nevertheless, he must have comprehended the limits of what Turkey can do in terms of big rallies in some European countries.

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