Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to Germany in a rare official visit with a busy agenda, ranging from the situation in Syria to the arrest of German citizens, and the currency crisis in the European Union candidate country.
Berlin and Ankara, which have been at odds over a variety of issues for years, recently toned down their rhetoric, signalling a new phase in ties.
Erdogan said his country seeks to improve political and economic relations with Germany during his three-day visit that starts on Thursday.
“Our priority [in my visit] will be completely leaving behind the period experienced in recent years in our political ties,” he said on Sunday.
“In addition, it will be the steps that can be taken to enhance our economic ties on a mutually beneficial basis.”
Erdogan will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank Walter Steinmeier during his visit.
The diplomatic traffic between Berlin and Ankara has already been busy in September.
Early in the month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas held talks in Turkey with his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, expressing the desire for closer cooperation.
Last week, Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan, and Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Sonmez were in Berlin meeting with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier.
Mensur Akgun, a professor of international relations and a columnist, said the two countries seek to prioritise mutual strategic interests such as Syria and economic ties, rather than their differences.
“The relationship between the two countries is complex with many different aspects from the refugee aspect to entangled economic ties and millions of Turks living in Germany,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The Turkish government understands that Turkey will not be an EU member state anytime soon and seeks to put the relations with the bloc to a more realistic platform. The visit will help achieve this goal. The sides understand it is in their mutual interest to solve their issues,” Akgun added.
Tensions between the two countries mainly stem from purges and arrests of hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey after a July 2016 coup attempt that killed more than 300 people, including the plotters. German journalists and activists have been among those arrested.
Berlin has called the crackdown arbitrary, while Ankara denies its political influence on the judiciary.
Germany, the country with the largest Turkish diaspora in the world, banned gatherings of foreign politicians and their supporters within its borders before both Turkey’s 2017 constitutional referendum and presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24. Other EU member states, such as the Netherlands and Austria, followed Germany. The move infuriated Turkish authorities.
Turkey and Germany have many reasons to work together. In addition to more than three million people of Turkish origin living in the country, the EU’s industrial locomotive is Turkey’s main economic and trade partner with bilateral trade at 37.6 billion euros ($43.6bn).
The currency crisis Turkey is going through is also high on the agenda of Erdogan’s visit. The value of the lira has taken a nosedive since the beginning of the year, losing more than 40 percent against the US dollar amid macroeconomic concerns and a diplomatic showdown between Washington and Ankara.
The NATO allies increased tariffs on each other in August after Turkey’s judiciary refused to release an American pastor jailed on “terrorism” charges. Ankara has accused Washington of carrying out an “economic war” against Turkey and said its courts are independent.
Meanwhile, rumours of German financial aid to Turkey in August were denied by German officials.
“Turkey is not seeking economic aid, neither in our talks today nor will it do so in the talks that the president and the chancellor will hold,” Finance Minister Scholz said after meeting his counterpart Albayrak.
Another issue complicating relations is the three million Syrian refugees Turkey hosts, keeping them from journeying to Western Europe. A mass flow of refugees to Europe in 2015 created a massive humanitarian crisis and helped the rise of far-right politics on the continent.
Ankara also wants the EU to allow Turkish citizens to travel to the Schengen area without visas, and seeks German support on this issue.
‘Germany needs a stable Turkey’
Can Baydarol, an analyst on EU-Turkey relations, said it is not in the interests of Germany or the EU to have an unstable Turkey bordering Europe.
“Turkey’s instability would hit the EU both politically and economically. Germany is protecting itself by mending ties with and helping out Turkey. A banking crisis in Turkey would hit European banks and over 6,500 German companies making business in the country. Keeping Syrian refugees in Turkey is also a priority of Germany,” Baydarol said.
“Furthermore, Ankara is drifting from the West towards Russia and Germany is not happy with it. If Russia and Turkey become actual strategic partners, this might create a soft spot in the EU’s defence,” he said.
Ankara signed a deal to purchase S-400 advanced missile defence systems from Moscow last year despite objections from its Western allies. Russia is also building a nuclear power plant in Turkey.
Moreover, Russia and Iran, which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and Turkey, which backs the moderate opposition, have been in close cooperation to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.
Their cooperation recently stopped a planned Syrian government offensive against the rebel-held province of Idlib and prevented a potential humanitarian disaster involving hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras
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