Erdoğan and Merkel agree to disagree

Erdoğan and Merkel agree to disagree

Following hours of talks in Ankara, it became apparent in the joint press conference that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Turkish host, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, agree to disagree on a number of political matters, topped by Turkey’s half-a-century-old membership bid to become a member of the European Union.

Merkel made it clear that despite her reservations, the process could proceed chapter by chapter, if Turkey fulfills certain obligations. And if that was not enough to irritate Erdoğan, since such a chapter-by-chapter practice has never been applied to any candidate before, Merkel added insult to injury by saying that the Turkish government should abide by the Ankara agreement of 1963 in order to be able to open all chapters without any blocking. The agreement concerns the ban on the southern two-thirds of the Republic of Cyprus – under Greek rule – for use of Turkish ports, but claims governance over the Turkish-ruled North, despite their clear will and the presence of Turkish troops there.

That was it. The two leaders almost got into a skirmish of words in front of an international press crowd, and more than one time. Erdoğan made it clear that Greek Cyprus did not represent Turks, Merkel repeated the Ankara agreement, Erdoğan intervened and reiterated the Turkish position, etc. One has to congratulate Merkel as the leader of a country hosting around 4 million people from Turkey (some 5 percent of Germany’s population) for her tact in locking Turkish-EU relations to the Cyprus issue as if there was no other problem and her own CDU party was not a major obstacle in between.

It is true that the economic crisis in Europe and Turkey’s involvement in Middle Eastern affairs more than before contributed to the chill in relations in the last few years, but it is also true that the EU is losing political and economic leverage on Turkey.

Merkel brought up the issue of arrested journalists as a major violation of rights, and Erdoğan repeated his line, saying that they were not in jail because of what they had written. Erdoğan brought up the issue of lack of cooperation in the field of counterterrorism, and upon a reporter’s question Merkel admitted that Germany had made some mistakes but promised more from now on. Merkel also raised the issue of religious freedoms in Turkey, particularly focusing on Christian – Protestant in particular – minorities and the free functioning of German foundations in Turkey. Erdoğan did not touch that issue much.

Are there any fields that the leaders of these historical allies agree on? There is, of course. That is business. Merkel, escorted by a group of German investors, met with a group of high-level investors under the umbrella of TÜSİAD; Turkey’s biggest club of bosses, in order to find ways to open new fields in the Middle East, the Caucasus and beyond. There is no disagreement on that.