German Interests and Turkey’s EU Bid

German Interests and Turkey’s EU Bid

Ebru Turhan
The current shift in Germany’s attitude towards Turkey’s EU accession process is a matter of Realpolitik.
Strategic calculations shaped German preferences in recent months. Ahead of the elections, the German government had emerged as a key opponent against restarting the long-awaited membership talks with Turkey. Following the elections, Germany not only lifted its veto on Chapter 22, related to regional policy, but also called for the opening of two other chapters. The change in German preference and its timing can be explained by the German government’s pragmatic approach to EU-Turkey relations.

Ahead of the elections, Germany took a hard stance against re-launching the accession negotiations in June 2013, as originally promised by the EU. Germany’s veto on the opening of chapter 22 was only supported by the Netherlands and Austria. Nevertheless, due to the German influence in the EU, EU foreign ministers backed the German proposal to postpone talks with Turkey until after the release of the progress report. The presentation of the report was conveniently scheduled after the German elections.

The German position should be evaluated within the context of the pre-election atmosphere and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to satisfy conservative voters. By vetoing the re-launching of talks between the EU and Turkey, Merkel avoided German conservatives’ criticism of her party’s traditional Turkey policy, and consequently a loss of last-minute votes. “German elections are a good thing, but it cannot be an excuse to postpone everything else in Europe”, stated Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Foreign Minister. This statement was made just after the German veto and seemed to regard the role of Turkey’s EU bid in the German elections.

After Germany’s opposition to revive EU-Turkey talks and the EU decision not to restart negotiations, EU/German-Turkish relations deteriorated. Germany and Turkey summoned each other’s ambassadors over increasing tension between the two countries. Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister, Egemen Bağış stated Turkey would probably never become an EU member due to prejudiced attitudes from members, presumably signifying the Turkish government’s frustration with Germany. As a result, the German government gave the green light to EU-Turkey talks in view of both the risk of Turkey turning away from Germany and the rest of Europe, and the end of the election process.

In the post-election atmosphere, Germany not only dropped its opposition to the opening of chapter 22, but also called for talks on chapters 23 and 24. These focus on the judiciary, fundamental rights, freedom and security. They are at the crux of the democratization process and the maintenance of a stable political environment. Turkey’s stability is of key importance for Germany. More than 5,300 German companies operate in Turkey. The political turmoil during the Gezi Park events demonstrated the strong tie between political and economic stability when the stock market witnessed the biggest daily drop in a decade and the Turkish lira decreased. Such incidents affected German companies’ business performance in Turkey. Consequently, the Federation of German Industries warned Turkey about the economic implications of political instability. Germany’s call to open chapters 23 and 24 should be evaluated in view of the direct effects of the instability in Turkey for Germany.

Interests played a key role in the formation of German preferences regarding the re-opening of EU-Turkey talks. Merkel’s efforts to secure votes in the pre-election atmosphere caused reluctance in the government to approve the opening of chapter 22. After the elections, the German government supported re-launching the negotiations for the stabilization of EU/German-Turkish relations. Germany’s interests, coupled with its power in the EU, greatly contributed to shaping the course of EU-Turkey affairs in the past few months. As Turkey’s most important economic partner, Germany is at present particularly interested in the preservation of political stability in Turkey. Therefore, the next German government will presumably lobby for the swift opening of chapters on fundamental rights and freedoms. It is all a matter of interests.

Dr. Ebru Turhan, Mercator-IPC Fellow, Sabancı University