A Turkish-origin minister in the German Cabinet

A Turkish-origin minister in the German Cabinet

Aydan Özoğuz was named as the first German Cabinet minister of Turkish origin on Dec. 15, by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in their coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance. She is going to be in charge of immigration, refugees and integration issues.

Being one of nearly 4 million people from Turkey in Germany (nearly 5 percent of the population) Özoğuz (read as Oezoughuz) is a good example of integration herself. Her parents arrived in Germany as “guestworkers” when Germany needed a fresh workforce for its industrial development in the 1960s and 70s. She studied hard, adopted German citizenship, married a German politician from Hamburg, got into politics, rose in the ranks of the SPD, and became the first Turkish-origin minister of Germany.

This is not only a success story for Özoğuz, but also a success story for Germany. She is a symbol of Germany’s multi-party, multicultural cohabitative system, which was aimed for after the lessons drawn following the disasters of the Second World War. The success of that enabled (and entrusted her, despite two brothers having relations with Islamist groups that she condemns) Özoğuz to become a minister, in charge of immigration-integration issues which play a key role in Turkey’s relations with both Germany and the European Union.

The next day, on Dec. 16, the Turkish government signed a re-admission agreement with the EU in the framework of its efforts to revive almost frozen relations with Europe. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan proudly announced following the signature that he was to go to Brussels to meet the President of the EU Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and other ranking officials for the first time in years. Last month the EU Commission opened another membership negotiation chapter with Turkey, again after years as a new start-up. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has been travelling to Yerevan, Athens and Nicosia over the last weekend to refocus on issues to which Europeans (and Americans) give importance, such as Cyprus and the border with Armenia. French President François Hollande is expected to pay an official visit to Turkey in January, as a sign of improving relations.

Turkey has recently been focused more to its East and South, together with the rise of the Arab Spring, and Erdoğan has been subject to criticism that these Eastern-oriented politics have also changed his domestic, as well as foreign, politics. In 2013, first the Gezi wave of protests where millions took the streets showing the multicultural, pluralistic face of Turkey, and then disappointments Erdoğan had to face in Syria and Egypt, forced him to reconsider the government's preferences, with Turkey heading towards three important elections in the next one-and-a-half years.

Despite the fact that Erdoğan has strongly criticized the EU because of its “indifference” to what has been happening in Egypt, and also recently in Bangladesh, in the very ceremony of the EU agreement, this agreement could be seen as another step in Turkey’s re-orientation to the West.

The government’s PR about the agreement focuses on its possible bonus, a vote on travel visas for Turkish citizens if Turkey meets all requirements of the readmission agreement in the next three years. The requirements are mostly about accepting to host illegal immigrants to Europe from Asian and African countries into Europe through Turkey, in collaboration with the EU. That gives an additional meaning to Germany’s choice of a Turkish-origin immigration minister in its next Cabinet.