Germany’s Merkel due in Turkey in late January for talks on trade, ties

Germany’s Merkel due in Turkey in late January for talks on trade, ties

No doubt, foreign and security policies will continue to dominate Turkey’s agenda in the next year. The Syrian civil war, efforts for the return of the Syrians, an ongoing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, the probable deployment of the Turkish troops to Libya and cold winds between Ankara and Washington are just a few of the dossiers to be closely followed in 2020.

January will mark two important visits, one by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 8. Hosted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Russian leader will attend the inauguration of the TurkStream natural gas pipeline project in Istanbul along with other leaders from neighboring countries.

The project is important for both Turkey and Russia in terms of adding yet another aspect to their deepening bilateral multifaceted cooperation. It also comes at a moment when the United States is seeking to sanction Turkey because of the TurkStream project along with Russia’s Nordstream pipeline project, which supplies natural gas to Germany.

Turkey sees that energy security could still play an important role in developing ties with the European Union as both of them are under sanctions threat from Washington. From this very perspective, Turkey is hoping that the EU would also be represented at the inauguration ceremony of TurkStream on Jan. 8.

Turkey’s second high-level visitor in January will be German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to the sources, the visit will take place in late January and will include official talks in Ankara and a meeting in business circles in Istanbul.

This will be a significant visit both for the future of the Turkish-German relations and for the Turkish accession process to the EU. On the bilateral front, talks to be held in Ankara would be considered as the formal termination of what some senior German senior diplomats have dubbed the “Ice Age” between Ankara and Berlin.

Berlin categorically not against the Syrians’ return

It’s true that Turkey’s unilateral operation in Syria in October had added an additional sour taste to ties between the two countries, but it had a limited effect as a result of Ankara’s quick deals with Washington and Moscow, which provided a new status quo in northeastern Syria. Furthermore, it’s also a fact that many fears voiced in Europe such as the safety of the civilians and the potential resurgence of ISIL did not come to pass.

On the Syrian front, a four-way summit with the participation of Erdoğan, Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has brought a new mechanism in addressing the Syrian problem, especially on the return of the Syrians to safe zones in northern Syria. Turkish sources underline that Germany is not categorically against settlement plans in the safe zone, but they want to see how Ankara’s talks with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) would result in this end.

In general terms, Ankara describes Chancellor Merkel’s leadership as the sole rational and responsible power in Europe and therefore attaches great importance to the continued engagement with her government.

A second dimension of Merkel’s visit corresponds to Turkey’s EU accession process as Germany will resume the term presidency of the Brussels-based club in the second half of 2020, after the Croatian presidency. It’s too early to discuss how German leadership would have an impact on Turkey’s negotiation process as well as on upgrading the customs union and visa liberalization.

On the visa liberalization, the ball is in the Turkish court as it must fulfill the remaining six benchmarks out of 72 that includes harmonization of the definition of terrorism. The revival of the accession process requires the unanimity of all member countries, and it seems impossible in the coming period.

Businesses lobby for customs union

However, there could be a glimpse of hope for starting talks on broadening the customs union between Ankara and Brussels, which has been under the blockage of the German government. Berlin makes clear that it would discuss the issue during its term presidency but on the condition that the Turkish government takes some positive steps in terms of democratization, human rights and other issues.

One existing problem between Turkey and Germany is the ongoing prosecution processes against 15 German citizens of Turkish origin over their alleged links to terror organizations. Ten of these people are detained while the remaining five are banned from leaving Turkey.

Turkey charges these people over terrorist propaganda, but Germany says they were purely using their freedom of expression.

On the other side, the German business circles continue lobbying for starting talks on the modernized customs union as they see great potential in Turkey as they hope to produce and export more. In this regard, Germany’s giant car producer Volkswagen is expected to announce its postponed decision to open a new production facility in Manisa Province in Turkey in February, and Ankara hopes that it will be a positive boost for enhancing economic ties.

Obviously, a positive trend between Berlin and Ankara would also have affirmative repercussions over the latter’s ties with Brussels and the rest of the continent.

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