From Thatcher to Merkel, ladies are not for turning

From Thatcher to Merkel, ladies are not for turning

“You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

I do not know in which context she said it, but this iconic sentence used in a speech delivered at the U.K. parliament belongs to late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. 

Avoiding turns is a rare commodity among politicians. If you think how most politicians are male, it is striking that this sentence came from a woman. There are a lot of reasons why Thatcher was called the “Iron Lady” - sticking to the policies she set despite heavy objections must be one of them.

Consistency is also a visible characteristic of German Chancellor Angela Merkel; at least we can say this in full confidence as far as her policy on Turkey is concerned.

Merkel has never hidden her objection to Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

But she was clever not to voice it each and every day since there was another figure, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who had volunteered to be the spokesperson for the anti-Turkey camp.

Merkel did not have to do a thing to slow down the process since France wanted to take center stage. 

Merkel again cleverly used the term “pacta sunt servanda” (Latin for “agreements must be kept”) and said Germany would remain loyal to past promises, knowing that those promises will not be realized due to France’s active opposition.

Merkel opted to downplay her objection to Turkey’s accession to the EU not because she valued Turkey’s role on both the international and regional scene, but mainly to avoid irritating millions of Turks living in Germany. 

She also valued the booming bilateral economic ties. 

But when it came to international and regional issues, Merkel avoided a high level exchange of views. While Germany has a strategic dialog at the prime ministerial level with China for instance, Merkel did not want to have a similar type of high level dialogue with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of whom she did not particularly enjoy the company.

The refugee crisis seems to have influenced that stance. I don’t imagine that she has started to enjoy the company of Erdoğan but she seems to have realized that Germany and Europe needs to cooperate with Turkey on regional crisis issues if Germany is to lessen the negative fallouts of these crises.

“Europe is rediscovering Turkey,” said a high level source from Ankara. “They are realizing that maintaining Turkey’s stability is a national security issue for the European Union,” said the same source. 

To what degree this kind of awareness will take ground remains to be seen.

In the short-term, what seems to be important in the framework of Merkel’s new approach to Turkey is to what degree she will deliver on Turkey’s demands.

Merkel is not a politician that goes around making empty promises. 

While her statements are crucial since we have never heard her talking with such a positive attitude in terms of Turkey’s accession to the EU, the rhetoric she used was not strong and binding. The statement that “Germany will give the necessary support” is still a bit ambiguous, which might reflect caution on the part of Merkel, who probably does not want to face criticism for not delivering on what she said.

So it will be the task of Turkish officials to see that Turkey is not deceived by the EU, something that it she experienced several times in the past.