Germany and Turkey: Relationship at a Crossroads

After the publication of its latest issue, “Interdependence between Germany and Turkey,” Insight Turkey organized the panel entitled "Germany and Turkey: Relationship at a Crossroads" where speakers from Germany and Turkey shared their perspectives. Considering the current events -refugee crisis, visa liberalization, etc.- it seems that both of the states are quite interconnected and the next months would be decisive for this bilateral relation.

Stefan Sulaiman Wilms: While analyzing the German media’s perception of Turkey, Wilms emphasized the fact that the German media is not a reflection of the German politics. However, when focusing in the media coverage of Turkey it can be considered as a negative one. A reason for this is what Wilms calls as the death of the social democracy and the German conservatism. He asserted that the new conservatives want to find a new enemy and Turkey has become the new negative symbol for them. Wilms also added that for the opposition in Germany, criticizing Turkey, is used as a tool to criticize other issues. Another reason for this negative coverage of Turkey from the German media, according to Wilms, is the fact that many the current politicians and journalists are undereducated. In this regard Sulaiman Wilms asserted that the media today –not only in Germany but in the world as well- has started to be appreciated not from the quality but from the radical language used on it. For this reason there can be noticed an imbalance in the media in terms of what is opportune or not. Wilms stated that while the Turkish Presidential Palace was highly discussed in the German media, there was no parallel mentioning of the HQ of Germany’s external secret service BND, which is far more expensive than the former. Another example provided by Wilms was that the media in some cases referred to president Erdoğan as Sulltan leaving aside the fact that Erdoğan has led Turkey on bases of the secular Constitution of 1982. A final important element is also the impact of the German citizens with a Turkish origin which are active in both the Turkish media in Germany and the German media as well. However, most of them are against the current Turkish government and most of the time what they say is perceived to be correct. Nevertheless, the fact that these people in most of the cases are ideologically inclined with the left or the PKK is left aside. Wilms concluded by saying that both Germany and Turkey need each other as they have common interests and history.

Enes Bayraklı: According to Bayraklı the relations between Turkey and Germany did not deteriorate after the Gezi protests in Turkey as it is claimed by many. In contrary, the EU accession process of Turkey has been crucial when it comes to defining the bilateral relations. There has been a quite strong opposition from Germany which started when Angela Merkel came in power in 2005 and since then there can be seen a deterioration of the German- Turkish and European-Turkish relations.

Speaking about the refugee crisis, Bayraklı argued that lately the Europe and especially Germany have understood that Turkey is very important and cannot be bypassed. For this reason there has been a re-rapprochement between Germany and Turkey; however Bayraklı argued that rather than a paradigm changing it is more a pragmatic approach as Germany wants and needs to solve this crisis. In 2015 there was an increase in the number of the refugees mainly as the people living in the conflicted areas lost hope after so many years of civil war. Nevertheless, the Russian attacks –which did not spare the civilians – and the declaration of Merkel that Germany is going to accept 1 million refugees triggered even more the influx of refugees.

Enes Bayraklı asserted that rather than a refugee crisis it is more a political crises. Economically speaking the European countries have the capacity to host more refugees than they are currently hosting. However, the fact that the European states claim that they are going to receive only Christian refugees and that some politicians in Europe –especially those from the far right – consider the increasing number of Muslim refugees as a problem, is an indicator of a political crisis. According to Bayraklı, Merkel as well has been giving mixed signals in this regards.

Visa liberalization for Turkey is an important element when it comes to the refugee deal. Bayraklı argued that currently the European leaders are facing the difficult task of convincing their voters about the visa liberation for Turkey as the political discourse of Merkel and other conservative leaders has been focused mainly in the fact that the visa liberalization for Turkey would trigger the immigration of Turks towards Europe, especially Germany.  It can be said that currently Merkel’s government has found itself between the visa liberalization for Turkey and the refugee crisis –which may create a political turmoil. However, Bayraklı added that some politicians –especially the German ones- do not understand the importance of the visa liberalization for Turkey. They assume that Turkey can accept the deal without the visa liberalization, but according to Bayraklı such an assumption is wrong and it may cause greater problems.  For this reason, the next 2-3 months are very critical it terms of Turkish- European relations and especially Turkish-German relations. At the end, Bayraklı stated that in order to have a sustainable agreement there is a necessity to look at the root causes of the problems in the Middle East.

The last speaker, Thomas Krumm, focused on the Turkish voters’ preferences across Germany. While presenting a brief demography of the citizens with Turkish origin, Krumm highlighted that a large number of Turkish immigrant currently live in Germany. There are counted nearly 2.9 million people with Turkish migration background in Germany out of which 1.4 million were first generation migrants and most of them are living in the West Germany. According to Krumm, early Turkish labor migrants in Germany were severely sympathetic to the SPD and later diversified to the Greens and the Left party. The disappointment with the SPD-Green coalition which in 1999 reformed the citizenship law and did not allow the full dual citizenship, let to the shift of the citizens with Turkish background toward the Left party.

An important fact that Krumm mentioned was that the number of the MPs with Turkish background has more than doubled between 2009-2013; however, this started with a really low share –with 5 MPs- and currently there are 11 MPs with Turkish background.  The largest share of the MPs is for the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left. When it comes to the Turkish citizens who live Germany and their behavior in Turkish elections Krumm asserted that the tensions between the parties within Turkey are reflected in the votes of the Turkish expats, i.e. in the regions where AK Party did best, HDP did worst.  Such a reflection is seen not only among the Turkish citizens living in Germany but also among those who live in other European states.

Krumm concluded by saying that the voters with a Turkish background play an important role and the parties in Germany have to open themselves towards the requests of those voters. According to him a better representation of the Turkish migrants would probably change the agenda settings and maybe the decision making in Germany.