The cost of populism in Turkish-German relations

The cost of populism in Turkish-German relations

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has described Germany’s anti-Turkey policies as “populism,” using an expression along the lines of “down with populism.”

Populism certainly seems set to become the political disease of the 21st century. As I have been writing for a long time, the Turkish government should establish close relations with the West’s center-left, center-right, liberal and green political parties, developing a common language of democracy and diplomacy with them against the rising populist movements in the West.

Language of populism

In one of my previous articles, I wrote the following: “Turkey’s issues with Europe mostly originate from disputes over democracy … Turkey must avoid amplifying the disputes through overblown rhetoric. It should use classic diplomacy and speak through the notions of shared values. In this way, center-right and center-left parties and governments in the West that are faithful to conventional democracy should enhance their friendship with Turkey against the rising trend of authoritarian populism.”

The hostile policies being developed in Germany against Turkey are certainly unjust, and there is a strong likelihood that these policies will continue after elections, rather than being left behind as “election populism.”
The disease of populism is hardly limited to Germany. Headline-grabbing accusations in Turkey blasting European governments as “Crusaders” and “Nazis” may have won votes in elections, but they also greatly increased tensions in our foreign policy.

I hope Çavuşoğlu’s statement about populism is the sign of a more rational diplomatic approach, as conducting foreign policy diplomatically is the first and foremost duty of foreign ministers.

Right, left, liberals, greens

The influence of rising far-right tendencies in the heightening tensions with Germany is important and worrying. There are, however, left-wing, liberal and green parties, intellectuals and think tanks that are against or at least distant from populism. They have supported Turkey’s EU journey from the beginning. But even they are adopting negative stances against Turkey now.

Should we accuse all of them of being “Crusaders,” further pushing them to toughen their stances? Or should we devise rational solutions? It has never been rational for any country to increase the number of its enemies by engaging in clashes on many fronts. 

In the West, where the political spectrum is multicolored, there are political domains with which Turkey could develop a shared democratic discourse and establish close relations. Indeed, this was the case until five or six years ago. The government must focus on this once again.

What was it like it in 2007?

Let’s remember the following lines of a government program read out by then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Aug. 31, 2007: “The objective of EU membership will help our country approach universal standards in matters such as democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms, and the rule of law. Furthermore, with regard to matters such as institutional structures and sectoral policies, [this objective] will shape what Turkey will do in the upcoming period.”

With or without full membership in the end, the benefits of the EU process for Turkey are self-evident. If it returns to this vision, the Turkish government could find interlocutors who are not fanatically encapsulated with animosity toward Turkey. It may even find friends - just like it used to be - among political parties, governments, the intelligentsia, and think tanks. But of course, this would require paying attention to “universal standards,” about which we have not heard much recently.