The schizophrenic nature of Turkish-German relations

The schizophrenic nature of Turkish-German relations

“Looking at the political level, there seem to be tremendous problems between the European Union and Turkey. But the pension fund that I work for as an adviser just took the decision to massively invest in Turkey; there is confidence in the economy,” I heard a former German undersecretary of foreign affairs say in a private conversation six months ago.

To me, nothing can explain better the schizophrenic level of relations between Germany and Turkey and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Cologne this Saturday, just a day before the European Parliament elections further exacerbate that schizophrenia.

While there is a huge controversy about the visit of Erdoğan whose stance about the mine accident in Soma has been widely criticized by the German media, this seems to have had no repercussions on bilateral ties.

Although the visit is being conducted in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), an organization that is known to be close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), no one in Germany is having second thoughts about the political nature of his address to tens of thousands of supporters living in Germany, just three months ahead of presidential elections that he is expected to contest. Turks living abroad will be able to vote for the first time and 1.5 million Turks in Germany are eligible to vote. The Alevi community has called for a demonstration in Cologne in opposition to Erdoğan’s visit.

Erdoğan cannot be allowed to move his election campaign battles to Germany, CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer told Spiegel Online.

It is interesting that the German government urged Erdoğan to watch his words at the Cologne rally. Yet while German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, told the press Monday that the Turkish prime minister should aim “to help the good social cohesion here and not result in the opposite,” the German chancellor herself was busy the next day posing with a Turkish minister during the Berlin air show which opened its doors with the official partnership of Turkey.

So, Erdoğan can feel safe that his visit is not affecting bilateral relations and as Ozan Ceyhun, a German politician of Turkish descent, told me yesterday, there aren’t any repercussions so far at the political level.

But can we say the same when it comes to the situation of the Turkish community in Germany?
This whole debate over the visit risks producing adverse effects on the Turkish community’s relationship with Germans. First of all, it gives ammunition to conservatives which use every occasion to hit at Turkey to prove that it is not fit for EU membership. Those messages create deep resentment among the Turks in Germany, be they pro-AKP or not.

Even those who are not supporters of the AKP are very sensitive when Turkey is criticized by Germany, Dr. Serhat Karakayalı told me yesterday on the phone. The anti-Muslim sentiments in Germany make the Turks living there suspicious of the real motivations behind the criticism, according to Karakayalı, a scholar based in Berlin.

Turks which have acquired German nationality will also go to the ballot box for EP elections. Any message that could be interpreted as interference in politics will further aggravate the anti-Turkish sentiments among some Germans who believe the Turkish community’s loyalty is with Turkey rather than Germany.

Is it worth risking the interests of the Turks living in Germany for a political career?

At any rate, no one would probably advise PM to cancel the visit. Be they for the AKP or against it, Turks in Germany could feel abandoned and silenced by what they already consider to be hostile voices.

“There has been such an exaggerated reaction against Erdoğan that they have not left an option for him,” Ceyhun, who is known to be close to the AKP, told me.