Turkey’s relations with Germany on the move
As every election cycle arrives, so do the guests from European capitals. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s annual Istanbul Security Conference was planned long before Turkey’s snap elections were announced, but it became a great opportunity for German academics and politicians to check the pulse of Turkish politics.
The conference, organized by Başkent University and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, was accurately named: “Turning Challenges into Opportunities.” Chaired by Dr. Ercan Çitlioglu, the conference covered several issues ranging from migration to fighting radicalism, from proxy wars to the European energy debate. Among the participants were experts not only from Germany but also from Russia, Israel, India and Japan.
The conference had Chatham House rules, but Turkey’s role against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the migration issue, and Middle East politics came up over and over again. During our conversation with Matern von Marschall, a member of the German Parliament from the CDU, von Marschall euphemistically pointed to “room for improvement” in Turkish-German relations. “Turkey is located in a very important part of the world. It has played a very significant role in the refugee/migrant crisis. But we as German politicians also have to pay attention to freedom of expression and the rule of law,” he said.
Most experts agree that ties between Germany and Turkey are at least better than they were a year ago. But German tourists, academics and students are still reluctant to come back to Turkey for visits or Erasmus studies.
Andreas Nick, also an MP from the CDU and the head of the German delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, stressed the need for “normalization” of Turkey. “Both countries went through some tough elections last year and this so-called ‘megaphone diplomacy’ did more harm than good. There are still some outstanding issues but we have deep economic ties and common interests,” said Nick.
Another common theme that arose at the conference was the need for Turkey to improve its ties with the U.S. There was widespread agreement about the Trump administration’s peculiarity and vagueness on critical issues, but most international experts agreed on two deadlines to be watched: The Iranian Nuclear Agreement deadline (May 12) and the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem (May 14).
Meanwhile, Turkey is heading to one of the most exciting and vibrant election campaigns in its recent history, amid plenty of candidates, issues, platforms and promises. The main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) maverick candidate, Muharrem İnce, has energized the party base and younger opposition forces. İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener and Felicity (Saadet) Party leader Temel Karamollaoğlu have turned the process for securing 100,000 petition signatures to nominate a presidential candidate into an opportunity to rally their bases. This seems to have gotten supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rather worried.
But more than the opposition candidates, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his team are losing more sleep over the state of the economy these days. While the Turkish Lira continues to lose value, it is naive to expect a clear and comfortable win for the incumbent party. Interest and inflation rates have not been this high for years, even surpassing the 2009 global financial crisis. So while a brutal financial tide continues to rise, Turkey will be better off with friends like Germany by its side.