Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a three-day state visit to Germany on Thursday, the latest step in rapprochement efforts after more than a year of acrimony that pushed bilateral ties to the breaking point.
In in op-ed in the Thursday edition of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Erdogan called for bilateral ties to “turn over a new page.”
The arrest of German citizens in Turkey has been a point of contention between the two NATO allies, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to press for their release. They include five Germans who Berlin says are being held for political reasons.
Turkey’s human rights record is also seen as a key obstacle in Erdogan’s talks with German leaders. Berlin is a strong critic of an ongoing crackdown following a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, which led to the arrests of tens of thousands of people and the purging of just as many from their jobs. Erdogan last year accused Merkel of using Nazi tactics after Germany accepted thousands of political refugees in the wake of the failed coup against him.
Erdogan regularly dismisses international human rights criticism, saying the judiciary is functioning normally and merely defending democracy. Some analysts, however, say the human rights issue could sour hopes of a new Turkish-German relationship. They also say the Turkish president will be under pressure to accommodate some of Berlin’s demands.
Others predict that both sides may be keen to prevent human rights from scuppering reconciliation efforts. Berlin’s granting of a full state visit already is seen as a diplomatic victory for Erdogan.
‘Togetherness of necessity’
The Turkish leader now appears to be looking to the future, rather than dwelling on the past, according to analysts.
“It’s a marriage of logic, a togetherness of necessity — they may not love each other, but they have to come together because the strategic and geopolitical imperatives forced both sides together and there is no way out,” said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. “He [Erdogan] has seen in particular that without the German leader, you cannot do anything on the European continent.”
Erdogan is scheduled to hold several talks with Merkel during his three-day visit, as well as to attend a state banquet Friday in his honor, hosted by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Erdogan’s visit comes as the Turkish economy is facing a crisis, with the currency falling in value by more than 40 percent this year. Analysts predict the Turkish economy is likely to need considerable financial support, given that Turkey owes upward of $140 billion in foreign-denominated loans, much of which is due to be repaid over the next 12 months.
Ankara has repeatedly ruled out turning to the International Monetary Fund for help. Such a move, analysts say, would be politically toxic for Erdogan since he regularly touts freeing Turkey from dependence on IMF support as one of his most significant achievements.
Berlin, along with the wider European Union, is promoted in Turkey as an alternative to the IMF. German and Turkish finance ministers met earlier in September in Berlin for talks that reportedly included possible German financial support.
Johannes Hahn, EU enlargement commissioner, appeared, however, to rule out any wider EU support. “Turkey’s current economic problems are essentially homemade. The situation cannot be solved by the EU or single member states giving out aid packages or credit to Ankara,” he told the German Die Welt newspaper this week.
Separately, Christian Lindner, the leader of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats, criticized the granting of the state visit, calling it a “propaganda victory” for Erdogan.
Ankara has significant leverage over Berlin in its role as gatekeeper for refugees and migrants entering the European Union. An EU deal with Ankara two years ago resulted in a dramatic drop in migrant numbers leaving Turkey for the EU. Erdogan frequently has warned of ending the agreement.
Opposition to Trump’s moves
U.S. President Donald Trump also is providing major impetus for improving relations between Erdogan and Merkel. The two leaders share opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the reimposition of sanctions.
With key trading partner Iran providing oil for Turkey, Erdogan has ruled out imposing U.S. sanctions, putting Ankara on a collision course with Washington.
Trump warned Wednesday that anyone who did not comply with U.S. sanctions would “face severe consequences.” U.S.-Turkish relations continue to be profoundly strained for myriad reasons, and in August, U.S. tariffs imposed on Turkish goods triggered a collapse in Turkey’s currency.
Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat, underscores that Berlin is key for Ankara in resisting U.S.-Iranian sanctions.
“The biggest ally for Turkey will be the EU, and among the EU countries it obviously will be Germany, and that is why we must watch very carefully when Erdogan is in Berlin,” said Selcen.
Erdogan is likely to be buoyed by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini’s Wednesday announcement of an initiative to create an alternative payment system to dollars in an effort to avoid U.S. sanctions in trading with Iran.
The Turkish president is likely to be offered the lure of long-term business contracts with German companies. German media reported manufacturing company Siemens is on the verge of a $35 billion deal to modernize Turkish railways. Analysts point out Ankara will be aware that such mammoth contracts provide an essential incentive to Berlin to support the Turkish economy.