The leadership of Germany’s Merkel is becoming crucial for Turkey

The leadership of Germany’s Merkel is becoming crucial for Turkey

Germany’s Angela Merkel was never a big European visionary strategist. She never aspired to be one. When she came to power, it was obvious she would much prefer to concentrate on Germany’s issues rather than spend time on determining overall European policies.  In contrast to some European politicians who would see it as a prestigious duty to assume responsibility in shaping EU’s vision, Merkel never aspired for the EU leadership, while the strength of her country did certainly grant that position.

The European economic crisis, followed by Europe falling into a serious shortage of visionary leaders, led Merkel assuming the leadership position because the gravity of problems coupled with populist politicians gaining ground in other member countries started to carry the potential of hurting German interests.

Take the refugee crisis. She first tried to find an EU solution to the crisis; failing to secure an agreement due to the intransigence of member countries she stroke a deal with Turkey on behalf of the EU, the terms of which were negotiated between German and Turkish officials.

With Brexit, followed by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, Merkel will be obligated to take on more leadership responsibilities. And she seems to have accepted that fact.

“The times in which we could totally rely on others are to some extent over, as I have experienced in the past two days,” she said yesterday in reference to the G7 summit in Sicily. “We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands,” she added.

This could and should prove an important turning point in Turkey’s relations with the EU. If Merkel wins the German elections in September, she will have French President Emmanuel Macron on her side to lead Europe. And if these two decide to take Europe’s fates in their own hands, it would only facilitate their leadership if they were to have Turkey, a key NATO member at the epicenter of everything that matters to the EU, from relations, to Russia, to the refugee crisis, on their side.

Obviously Turkish-German relations are not at their best. In fact, they are in the midst of a serious crisis as Turkey is objecting to the visit of German parliamentarians in the İncirlik air base where German military forces are deployed. This, however, is not something that cannot be overcome. 

What matters for the French- German leaderships and Turkey is to understand the importance of being on the same page. 

While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington might seem to have satisfied the Turkish leadership, as Erdoğan and Trump enjoyed some chemistry, the relations stand on a fragile ground. Similarly, while on surface, both Ankara and Moscow are trying to give the impression that the relations are back on track, there are still many troubles than ones that meet the eye.

Turkey has so far seen the EU as a push factor, and hence tried to balance that with its relations with the U.S. and Russia. While these two become a push factor themselves, EU can become a pull factor.

For that, Germany needs to more carefully and speedily treat Turkey’s sensitivities, especially when it comes to members of the Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), whose role in the failed coup is recognized even by the staunchest of Erdoğan critics.

In addition, by now, it must have become clear that Turkey’s slide into an authoritarian rule will not serve any interest for Europe. To reverse that slide, the EU needs to open a dialogue channel on democratic criteria, such as the rule of law and freedom of expression. The official opening of chapters 23 and 24 on fundamental rights has become more crucial than ever. The EU will have to make a judgement call soon. If Cyprus talks were to collapse, and it surely looks like they will; then European leaders will have to decide whether to sacrifice an important asset like Turkey to a member country who has brought nothing but nuisance to the bloc and whose blockage of chapters 23 and 24 only helps authoritarian tendencies to gain ground in Turkey. While too tiny to spot on the strategic map of the world, Greek Cyprus’ stance has much wider and detrimental effects on the projection of European liberal democratic values.