Erdogan's Germany trip: Reset relations or not?

Global Times | 作者: Cui Hongjian | 时间: 2018-10-08 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan's visit to Germany has been carrying out in between the red-carpet welcome and street protests. Such a scene reflects the reality of the relationship between Germany and Turkey - although politicians want to "let bygones be bygones," emotional people are reluctant to follow them and are ignorant to the turmoil in bilateral relations in the past two years.


Germany and Turkey have many reasons to enjoy a good bilateral relation.  First, Germany is Turkey's largest trading partner and a major source of foreign investment, while four million Turks living in Germany constitute the largest ethnic group there.


The two countries are both important members of NATO, and Turkey has been taking the membership of the EU, in which Germany as a core member, as its prior diplomatic goal.

But these do not bring about good relations between the two countries. In the past two years, political differences, challenges of social integration and different foreign policy orientations have brought troubles to their bilateral ties.

Germany opposes Erdogan-led political changes toward "dictatorship" and is concerned that this change may cause political divisions in German society via the Turkish immigrant groups.

In the meantime, Turkey, which regards itself as a regional power, eyes Germany's political precaution as exclusion and discrimination. Erdogan's accusation of "Nazi state" is still the main reason for Germans' reluctance to accept him.

However, the leaders of Germany and Turkey are obviously realist politicians. Given internal and external changes, they need to cooperate to save the bilateral relationship from the trap of being too emotional.

Turkey's need for easing relations is apparently higher. The country's deteriorating economy and the sharp depreciation of the Lira call for Germany's help. Moreover, considering its increasingly tense ties with the US, Turkey will benefit from easy relations with Germany and Europe.

Although Germany seems to have taken the initiative in Berlin-Istanbul bilateral relationship, the country's demand for improving ties with Turkey cannot be overlooked. Germany needs Turkey's help in stabilizing Europe's refugee situation and has to take the sentiments of its four million Turkish Germans into full account.

In a broader perspective, Germany, in the face of difficulty, needs warmer ties with Turkey in writing the story of "multilateralism against unilateralism."

Still, it is risky to conclude that the German-Turkish relationship can be reset and return to the right track. Although mainstream politicians in Germany intend to handle their country's ties with Turkey from a rational and interest-oriented perspective, other political forces and the public are unwilling to dismiss their political divergences with Turkey.

In addition, spats between Turks and Kurds, as well as the integration of Turkish Germans into Germany, are a long-term challenge for Berlin-Istanbul bilateral relations, especially in the context of rising populism in Europe. This cannot be easily addressed via only one visit.

Simply put, as long as Germany insists labeling Turkish politics as "dictatorship," improvements in the German-Turkish relationship are unlikely due to a lack of public support.

In spite of pessimistic voices on Berlin-Istanbul ties, any potential improvement in relations will not only help the two countries restore good interactions but also lead to a better Turkey-EU relationship.

Germany and Turkey are facing the same challenges of defending the Iranian nuclear agreement, safeguarding the stability in the Middle East and dealing with Washington's trade protectionist practices. Even if Erdogan's visit may not immediately "reset" the German-Turkish relationship, it is expected to form a stable and benign multilateral interaction framework among Germany, Turkey, the EU and even Russia.



Cui Hongjian is the director of European Studies at China Institute of International Studies.



Source: Global Times, October 30, 2018.