Time for de-icing in Turkish-German relations
“De-icing” is a process that has been prepared by the diplomats of the two countries for some months, according to Turkish and European diplomats who prefer to remain anonymous. The first step was taken with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s invitation of German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to his hometown, Turkey’s Mediterranean tourism center of Antalya on Nov 4, 2017. The importance of the meeting was to enable a realistic assessment of the tension in between following the German elections on Sept. 24.
The German elections were a turning point for Berlin regarding relations with Ankara. One European diplomat has said Germans have “learnt that non-speaking terms with Turkey is not good” for them. With some 3.5 million Turkey-origin people (some 800,000 are estimated to be Kurdish, according to German figures) from all religious, ethnic and political backgrounds, whenever Germany gets too involved with Turkish politics, Turkey’s political problems are echoed in Germany in an amplified manner, creating an internal security problem for Germany.
The second important step was Gabriel inviting Çavuşoğlu for a tea party at his house in his hometown Goslar on Jan. 6, during which the two ministers decided to speed up the contacts in between, and try to stop “megaphone diplomacy,” which is practice of two parties speaking to each other through the media. Diplomatic sources say that Gabriel and Çavuşoğlu held three more meetings since the end of last year other than those known to the public.
The increase in diplomatic contacts were not limited to foreign ministries. A Turkish delegation headed by Interior Ministry Undersecretary Muhterem İnce was in Berlin on Jan. 17-18 to talk with his counterpart Emily Haber about the joint struggle to fight terrorism, especially against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher (indicted in Turkey as “Fethullahist Terror Organization” or “FETÖ”) accused of being behind the July 2016 coup attempt. Some 400 Turkish citizens, including high ranking Turkish military officers, have sought political asylum in Germany following the 2016 coup attempt. The German delegation reciprocated the visit on Feb. 15-16 in Ankara, where diplomats and intelligence officers from both countries also took place in the talks.
The release of a total of 12 German citizens held by the Turkish court, from Meşale Tolu on Dec. 18, 2017 to Deniz Yücel on Feb. 16, has played an important role in the “de-icing” process. Another factor was Germany’s low profile position regarding Turkey’s ongoing military operation in Syria to clear the neighboring Afrin area of the PKK’s Syrian branch the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Merkel’s government ignored calls to impose sanctions on Turkey, preferring to caution Turkey against civilian causalities.
Economic relations between Turkey and Germany have continued to increase despite the political problems. Recently Siemens won a 1.1 billion euro wind energy project in Turkey, which includes joint production of wind turbines in Turkey.
The “ice age” in Turkish-German relations started when the German Parliament on June 2, 2016 voted to “recognize” the so-called “Armenian genocide,” meaning the atrocities that took place in 1915 under Ottoman rule in Turkey. Turkey has consistently denied claims that a “genocide” took place, and invariably slams any party that seeks to strengthen them.
Following this, Merkel orchestrated a major deal between Turkey and the EU over the control of the Syria-war-triggered migration flow to and through Turkey. The German government did not endorse the parliament’s decision but also did nothing to prevent it. Relations worsened when Germany, like some other EU governments, did not let President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and ministers of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government, including Çavuşoğlu, to address Turkish citizens in Germany to secure “Yes” votes in Turkey’s April 2017 referendum that sought to increase the powers of the presidency.
If the de-icing process between Turkey and Germany continues, it is also expected to have a positive effect in Turkey-EU relations. The next important step in that direction could be a meeting between Erdoğan, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU’s term president Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The meeting is scheduled to take place in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna on March 26.
However, some European diplomats, including Tusk, have claimed that the Varna meeting cannot take place because of Greek Cyprus’ complaint that the Turkish navy did not let an Italian drill platform to operate in a disputed area; while others claim that a cancellation would precipitate a “train crash” in Turkey’s relations with EU.