Germany-Turkey: It’s about more than just migration

Germany-Turkey: It’s about more than just migration

The German Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmeier, accompanied by a large delegation, was in Ankara this week. The German-Turkish rapprochement that President Erdoğan’s Berlin visit last hit off last month, is still in full swing. Once more, I heard that slipshod comment: “it’s all about the migration issue. Merkel needs it badly!” someone was saying. That is not correct. Turkish-German cooperation goes beyond the migration issue.

The relationship between the two countries has a long history. I was born in Bursa. The old railroad station in Mudanya, a port of Bursa province, was built by Germans in the 1870s as part of the Berlin-Baghdad railway project. There are many German-designed station buildings still intact around Anatolia, including the one in Ankara. All have the sturdy stone exteriors, tall windows and high ceilings typical of German architecture of the times. They come to us from a time when Turkish military officers were learning German and reading up on Prussian military history.

Siemens started its Turkish operation in 1856, and was probably the first major German firm to do so. Bosch came to Turkey in 1910, almost a decade before officers of the imperial army led by Atatürk established the modern Turkish republic. Afterwards more German companies set up in Turkey. BASF started its Turkey operation back in 1954. The ThyssenKrupp Group started its Turkish operation only this year, joining more than 7,500 other German companies operating in Turkey today. So there are at least 7,500 reasons for German-Turkey rapprochement. That takes things far beyond migration, if you ask me.

Turkey has become part of global value chains thanks to German capital. That’s how the share of Turkey in global manufacturing output increased from 0.5 percent to 1 percent. In the 2003-2014 period, around 30 percent of FDI inflows from the European Union countries was from Germany. Between 2016 and 2018, that number increased to 43 percent. This was right after the failed Gülenist coup attempt, mind you. In those most traumatic days, German companies continued to invest into Turkey. Germans are smart. They cancel out the noise and invest by looking at key indicators, and Turkey’s key indicators look good.

The migration issue is only a very recent addition to a long list of reasons for strengthening German-Turkish ties. It is important. The Turkey-EU migration deal is still doing its job, turning Turkey from a transit to a destination country. Now Turkey has around 3.5 million Syrian refugees stretching all sorts of public services. But those Syrians have also established around 10,000 registered companies.

More than 72 percent of Syrian company owners are not thinking of going back to Syria. Why? Because they already have successful business in Turkey. They are being integrated in the country’s market economy. Among these Syrian entrepreneurs, 10.9 percent initially relocated their companies into a third country, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Jordan, and then, having seen the business atmosphere there, preferred to come to Turkey. This should not be surprising. Just as rich economies like the United States have grown on European refugees throughout history, Turkey grows on refugees from the Islamic world. The only difference is that it gets paid for it in Euros.

What’s in it for Europe? As long as Turkey’s economy flourishes, it will continue to absorb the migrants, keeping them off the minds of European voters. This is what makes customs union modernization all the more important. Turkey is realigning itself with the West in general, and with Germany in particular due to a genuine interest in economic transformation.

We have done this before, and Turkey increased its share in global manufacturing output considerably. It also provided impetus for democratization. I know things are looking bleak right now, but I believe that we can do it again. The night is darkest just before dawn.