Turkey and Germany - an unpredictable and unstable partnership: View

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By Gülistan Gürbey, Adjunct Professor, Department of Political- and Social Sciences, Free University Berlin

The harsh tone of President Erdogan and the members of the Turkish government against Germany and also the EU and USA are not new in essence. On the contrary, a verbal-aggressive frontal attack on the “West” (EU, USA) and Germany has been going on for quite some time. With the active support of the media close to the government, an image of the West as an enemy is constructed: Germany and the West are “supporters of terror” to destroy the national and territorial unity of Turkey and undermine its strengthened position. The main objective of this aggressive course is to demonstrate strength both internally and externally and to increase domestic support.

However, this aggressive course against the West and Germany shows how far Ankara has moved away from Germany and its status as an applicant candidate for EU membership. In any case, this course is not compatible with the request for EU-Membership and a partnership with Germany. In dealing with each other, an inhibition threshold had long been passed, which cannot be accepted. Germany and the EU have so far reacted rather cautiously in order not to jeopardize the implementation of the refugee agreement with Turkey. At the same time, however, the pressure has increased in Germany due to the upcoming parliamentary elections, because the refugee issue is an explosive domestic political election topic, and the federal government is therefore trying to ensure that the refugee agreement continues to work.

Now President Erdogan has been meddling with the comparison of “Nazi practices”. He is deliberately provoking to show strength internally and externally. He needs this in order to generate further votes in the forthcoming Turkish referendum for the introduction of an autocratic presidential system and to gain support from the German-Turkish community in Germany. The majority of the German-Turkish community voted for the AKP in the Turkish parliamentary elections in June and November 2015, which shows that President Erdogan and his party are very popular. The rhetorical activism of President Erdogan and his AKP government is based on nationalist-Islamic contents and on an aggressive posture, just Erdogan has employed towards Germany. So he has support from a large part of the German-Turkish community as he promises strength, hegemonic leadership and security.

The fact is that the influence of Turkish politics in Germany has increased significantly since Erdogan’s and AKP’s rise to power. The active influence on Turkish communities outside Turkey is an integral part of the hegemonic Turkish foreign policy. Germany is particularly affected because so many migrants from Turkey have made their homes here. So far, Germany has not been able to challenge this influence because of the risk of losing its Turkish partner.

The current escalation in German-Turkish relations is an expression of a crisis at the level of values. It concerns the understanding of democracy and democratic governance. It is a key issue, because it has a substantial impact on the basis of a reliable partnership and EU accession capacity. Since the brutal suppression of the government-critical Gezi protests in the summer of 2013, the authoritarian-autocratic state and government course under Erdogan has increased significantly in order to monopolize power within the state. This is done at the expense of fundamental democratic principles which are being undermined, above all freedom of thought and speech, freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary, protection of minorities.

This domestic development, however, also had an impact on the partnership with Germany. The more authoritarian Turkey became, the more alienation from Germany increased. As the value bases drifted more and more, the basis for a reliable partnership weakened. With this emerging crisis, Turkey has become an increasingly unpredictable partner for Germany.

But also the regional political ambition of Turkey under Erdogan to become a hegemonic leadership has not always been compatible with a partnership with Germany and increased the differences in different policy areas. The foreign and regional policy course exacerbated the process of alienation with Germany, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring and the war in Syria.

Thus the bilateral relations remain fragile and characterised by a contrasting threads, which include cooperation as well as crises. However, the fact remains that cooperation with Turkey has become relatively uncertain. As long as the two countries interests remain connected but their political approaches stay apart, this uneasy balance is likely to remain.

By Adjunct Professor Gülistan Gürbey, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Free University Berlin

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