German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Istanbul on Friday, January 24, at the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A meeting between the two leaders in Istanbul’s Vahid Ud-din Palace lasted an hour and twenty minutes without the presence of the media, and the two are said to have discussed economic relations and the developments in Syria and Libya. Given Merkel’s trip to Turkey, the question arises as at what level Ankara-Berlin relations are now and what are the most important issues between the two sides? To shed more light on this issue we need to look at Turkish-German relations over the past few years.
Since 2015, especially with the unsuccessful coup against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016, relations between Turkey and Germany have cooled. The chill in relations has intensified due to differences in views between the two countries on human rights issues and the Kurds, as Erdogan has repeatedly been likened to Hitler by the German media, but despite all differences of opinion, Turkey and Germany at this juncture in their history need to work together. Germany seems to be interested to work with Ankara, despite the human rights issues. In the following columns we will discuss the concerns of each actor that have led to improved bilateral relations:
First, with regard to Germany’s concerns, the EU is no longer able to accommodate refugees from the West Asian region.
As tensions and conflicts arise in Syria’s Idlib and a new wave of Syrian immigrants and refugees is entering Greece and since Turkey has a unique geographical location between Europe and West Asia and plays an unparalleled role in arrival of Syrian refugees in Europe, Merkel’s Turkey visit is important in trying to persuade Erdogan to prevent refugees from entering Europe. Angela Merkel, meanwhile, has promised more financial aid and more funding for refugees.
Second, the debate on the refugee crisis for the European Union and Turkey’s role in the crisis is not solely and exclusively linked to the Syrian crisis. Erdogan’s government has said it is getting involved in Libya at the request of Seraj. Given the escalating tensions between the Seraj government and General Haftar in Libya and given Haftar’s advances in Libya, the involvement of Turkey (and at the same time Russia’s encouragement by Ankara to join the crisis) could bring another widespread wave of refugees from North Africa to southern Europe and countries such as Italy. The importance of this issue is further exacerbated by the fact that Italy is among the countries seeking to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad and return refugees to their homes, and as a result, there is a sharp disagreement with Germany, France and Britain.
It, therefore, seems that the EU is facing a serious challenge with the widening of divisions between southern and eastern European Union with Germany, France and the United Kingdom over the refugee crisis and a new wave of refugee influx into Europe. This is well known to Erdogan more than anyone else, as, at a news conference in Istanbul, Angela Merkel did not say a word on human rights and the Kurds nor civil liberties. Thus, it can be said that Erdogan is trying to get closer to achieving some of his goals in light of the EU’s current Achilles Heel.
First, Turkey’s entry into the European Union since 2005 has been one of the most important goals of the AKP (Justice & Development Party). But for two decades Ankara has not only failed to achieve that goal but in 2015 Angela Merkel acknowledged that Turkey was not eligible for EU membership. But now the refugee crisis may have prompted Merkel to rejoin Turkey’s EU bid.
Second, Turkey has been cooperating with Russia on the Syrian scene in recent years. Partnership with Moscow has somehow undermined Ankara’s position in Syria and the international system. It is as if Turkey is once again calling for talks with the West on issues such as the Libyan crisis and refugees to enter into the international community.
Third, Turkey has defined one of its most important roles in relation to the EU as the energy transmission corridor. Cooperation by the Zionist regime, Greece and Cyprus over the transfer of energy to Europe and Turkey’s removal from the program will lead to further isolation of Turkey and diminish Ankara’s influence. As a result, the use of the refugee crisis card, given its importance to the EU, could prevent Turkey from being isolated in the EU and NATO.