Turkey-EU ties in post-Merkel era
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s farewell visit to Turkey on Oct. 16 and the messages she conveyed during a press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have led to new observations and questions on the future of the Turkey-European Union relationship.
Her 16-years rule as chancellor of Germany witnessed many ups and downs and even serious crises in relations with Turkey, but this did not prevent Merkel from being hosted for the last time in Istanbul as a respected leader and saying goodbye to her with good feelings.
This was because Merkel - unlike many of her other European colleagues - deeply understood the importance of Turkey for Europe today and in the future and built crisis management on the principle of not disrupting relations.
She continued this approach with the messages she gave in Istanbul, and in fact, the diversity and depth of the topics covered by the two leaders carried the Istanbul meeting beyond a symbolic farewell visit.
She once again underlined that the current migrant deal would continue to be the focal point of Turkey-EU relations in the coming period. The EU should also support Turkey and cooperate with it to prevent human trafficking, Merkel also advised.
Citing Turkey as an important NATO partner, Merkel recalled Germany’s efforts for the resumption of Turkish-Greek talks for peaceful resolution of their differences stemming from the eastern Mediterranean. “We may have different points of view, but we are geo-strategically interconnected and dependent on each other,” the chancellor stated.
The degradation of democratic norms and human rights in Turkey has also been on Merkel’s agenda. Again, unlike her European colleagues, she managed to discuss these issues with the Turkish government without turning them into a violent verbal fight over the press.
Now the question is how this policy crafted by Merkel over the years will be followed after she departs from the office. It’s believed that a new coalition government under the leadership of Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) will be formed, with the participation of the Greens and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). Scholz is apparently getting close to replacing Merkel as the new chancellor and may hand over the Foreign Ministry to one of his coalition partners.
This new government might be expected to be more vocal in criticizing Turkey on human rights, but Scholz won’t completely change Merkel’s strategy on Turkey. His pre-election messages were moderate and positive, emphasizing Turkey’s importance for Germany and Europe.
From the end of the year, when the government is expected to be formed in Germany, this time, the focus will be on the French presidential election campaign. France, which will take the helm of the EU term presidency on Jan. 1, 2022, will go to the polls to elect the president in April.
During this period, no significant progress should be expected in Turkey-EU relations. French President Emmanuel Macron has tried to drag Turkey into his domestic political agenda, but Turkey’s decision not to escalate it thwarted the plans of the French president. But there is more time for the elections, and there is always a risk that French politicians would like to use Turkey in their political campaigns.
Moreover, in the coming months, some regional differences may come to the fore between Turkey and the EU. On the subject of Libya, France will hold an international conference on Nov. 12 to secure the Dec. 24 elections amid growing calls for countries to withdraw their soldiers or mercenaries from the Libyan theatre. Turkey still has troops in Libya and stresses that they are there upon the request of the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord.
Regarding Syria, Turkey has declared that its patience against YPG attacks is running out and that it can take new measures to eliminate terrorists in the north of the country. Meanwhile, Greece continues to establish military alliances with regional powers such as Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, as well as with Western powers, France and the United States in the Mediterranean.
As can be seen, all these issues show that the potential to create serious depressions in Turkey-EU relations continues. In order to prevent these problems from creating irreversible consequences, it is necessary to maintain the prudent and respectful dialogue that Merkel has created in recent years. This is valid for both European and Turkish leaderships.