Turkey does not want Germany to cherry-pick migrants

Turkey does not want Germany to cherry-pick migrants

Upon an invitation from the Goethe Institute, I recently attended a conference focusing on the relations between the German Foreign Ministry and various foundations. 

While the foundations are keen to underline their sensitivity over their independence and their wish to not be told what to do by the state, the two sides agree nevertheless on the need to have a dialogue.

The conference made me nostalgic for the days when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) cared about fostering dialogue between the government and civil society. The party used to hold meetings with civil society representatives on a number of issues. Nowadays, such meetings are held on a less frequent basis, their participants are mostly pro-government groups, and it is more like a monologue than a dialogue.

The name of the conference at the Goethe Institute was “The Road Towards a Foreign Policy of Societies — the strategic dialogue between foundations and the Federal Foreign Office.” I thus heard many of the speakers make reference to Ralf Gustav Dahrendorf, a German political scientist and politician who referred to the policy of societies rather than the policy of states in the 1960s.

Dahrendorf would have been tremendously disappointed if he had lived to see how many governments today build - or talk about building - walls on their borders to stop influxes of refugees. I don’t know if it would come as a relief, but in the end it is one of Dahrendorf’s compatriots, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has come up with a policy that is more “welcoming” of the refugees. Never mind that her policy is based more on pragmatic realism than the values on which Dahrendorf based his outlook when he spoke about the policy of societies.

Indeed, Merkel recently showed an exceptional example of pragmatism by reaching out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to secure Ankara’s cooperation on stemming the flow of refugees.

Merkel has never hidden the fact that she does not favor Turkey’s accession to the European Union. She was, however, more discreet about her dislike for Erdoğan, keeping her interactions with him at the minimum required to keep bilateral relations on track. But the moment she saw the refugee crisis getting out of hand, especially with the non–cooperative attitude of other EU members, she decided to step in. She came to knock on Erdoğan’s door and made several promises that - even though they may remain unmet in the long run - pleased the AKP government. 

Merkel is aware that German population is aging at a rapid pace and the country needs immigrants. Unlike Turkey, which finds thousands on its doors every day, Germany wants to receive refugees in a more orderly way. What’s more, it wants to receive migrants that will more easily integrate into German society. That is only natural, as far as German government is concerned. After all, it wants to pursue a smooth integration policy for migrants that will create minimum disturbance of Germany’s socio-economic texture. That is also a point of concern in Turkey at the moment.

While the deal reached by Brussels and Ankara does not include a concrete article on the controlled flow of refugees to Europe, there seems to be an understanding between Berlin and Ankara that Germany, in addition to some other EU countries that it wants to convince, will continue to receive refugees through a mechanism established with Turkey. They have already started to see how they can establish this mechanism, whereby some of the refugees will be able to make it to Germany legally. 

Turkey is ready for such cooperation, but it does not want Germany to discriminate between refugees. A possible German tendency to cherry-pick – perhaps focusing on Christians or more educated refugees - might emerge as one of the most controversial issues in the upcoming cooperation between the two countries over refugees.

Cherry-picking… Let’s hope that the German “policy of societies” can go further than that.