The recent brawl between Turkey and Germany supposedly over a chapter opening as part of the EU accession talks had nothing to do with the recent Gezi Park protests and the Turkish government response to that. It was not related to the harsh rhetoric adopted by outspoken Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ministers either. Although both the protest and the rhetoric have deliberately played into shaping the perception that Germany was irked by the position of the Turkish government and is now having second thoughts on unlocking the stalled negotiations with Turkey, the truth of the matter is that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-wing dominated German government is just using these recent developments as an excuse to mask her visible anti-Turkish agenda.
It went unnoticed but when the German Foreign Ministry on Friday summoned the Turkish ambassador in Berlin to protest some remarks made by Turkish officials, which in turn prompted retaliation from the Turkish side the next day, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was delivering his speech at the 28th ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in Odessa. Towards the concluding part of his well-prepared speech, Davutoğlu made a pointed reference to “home-grown initiatives and mechanisms” to strengthen cooperation among the littoral countries and rejected “non-littoral actors” from setting policies in the Black Sea. “Turkey believes that the EU’s and other organizations’ policies and efforts towards ensuring efficient and integrated maritime activities in the Black Sea should be complimentary to the already existing efforts and cooperation mechanisms among the littoral countries,” he underlined.
Davutoğlu’s veiled reference to Germany, a country that is using the EU to become more deeply involved in BSEC affairs, was an implicit warning to Germany to stay away from complicating efforts and thwarting progress in the Black Sea region, which is of utmost importance for Turkish economic and political interests. It was in fact Germany that pushed the idea of “Black Sea Synergy” that was launched in April 2007 under the German presidency of the EU. Granting the European Commission observer status in the BSEC in June 2007 followed. Though the first meeting of the EU ministers of foreign affairs with the ministers of the countries of the BSEC was held in February 2009 in Kiev, the structural framework to regulate ties was not established because of fear among most BSEC members that Germans simply intended to use this as an instrument to sabotage BSEC cooperation.
Another regional policy Turkey and Germany have been clashing over undoubtedly involves the Balkans. Germany, after pushing the breakup of Yugoslavia with hastened recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, has been working to marginalize Turkish and Russian interests in this region using its economic clout and with US backing at times. The German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle ran an amateurish article indicating that migrants from the Balkans have turned against Prime Minister Erdoğan because of the Gezi Park protests even though there was no discussion at all in Turkey that singled out this diverse group of people who originally came from the Balkans as opposing the government due to the protests. It was nothing but a deliberately misleading story that was in all likelihood planted at the direction of the German government.
The EU fits perfectly as political cover in advancing German interests in this region. The prime example would be the deeply biased attitude of Germany towards Serbian membership prospects in the EU for which Berlin uses and abuses almost every issue to protract Serbian talks. Part of the reason behind Serbian overtures towards Turkey in recent years is actually to balance German dominance in the region. Another example would be Germany’s strong opposition to the inclusion of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance. I was in Tallinn in April 2010, witnessing the fight during the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting over Bosnia. German diplomats under strict orders from Merkel to prevent the approval of a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a precursor to the country’s full membership in the alliance, failed miserably after a significant bloc of NATO members led by Turkey helped sway others, including the US, into supporting the granting of MAP status for Bosnia.
Turkey and Germany have their differences in Cyprus, Afghanistan, Iran and in other places as well. In the final analysis, those differences can be managed at some level through political and diplomatic bargaining. But domestic politics seem to have started playing a significantly larger role in worsening and even derailing ties between the two during Merkel’s government, which stands in sharp contrast to past experience. Merkel’s own personal views about Turkey have something to do with that negative perception, of course. But there are larger issues at play that have aggravated the situation in modern times.
The revelation of a major neo-Nazi scandal and the trial of the terrorist National Socialist Underground (NSU) group in Germany, which is accused of 10 murders, including those of eight Turks, have created a huge embarrassment for Germany. Turkey, with the backing of the US, has been hammering Germany for some time to come clean on these murders that were committed with the apparent assistance and knowledge of some federal and local officials. The stigmatizing policies of Merkel’s government towards some 3 million ethnic Turks living in Germany — one-third are German citizens — continue to poison Turkish-German ties.
Instead of helping integrate Turks into the larger German society, a policy publicly endorsed by the Turkish government, Merkel’s Germany is trying to accentuate divisions and separations in the Turkish community. It is a classic display of the “divide-and-rule” policy that is still employed by modern Germany. Kurds, Alevis and conservative groups have been targeted by German intelligence agencies not just to keep a tab on community affairs for social peace but in fact to stir up disturbances and provoke these groups against each other and against their motherland Turkey.
Both federal and state governments keep a blind eye to the activities of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in terms of fundraising, illegal tax levying, recruitment campaign and networking efforts to radicalize Kurds in Germany even though the PKK is officially listed as a terrorist organization. Muslim Alevis do not consider themselves as belonging to a minority religion separate from Islam, yet German authorities are doing everything to create a non-Muslim identity for Alevis living in Germany, throwing money and political support to fringe Alevis to hijack the cause of the peaceful Alevi community. There are also indications that Germans tried to provoke some Alevi groups in Turkey during the Gezi Park protests as well. Turkish officials also say that they now have compelling evidence indicating that German intelligence has actually been planting Turkish-origin informants in some conservative groups in Germany to portray them as extremist and radical organizations.
In the meantime, by escalating the crisis with Turkey, Merkel is hoping to cultivate some political points for the upcoming elections in September. She is courting far-right votes for her Christian Democrats (CDU) in northern German states while paying heed to Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), Europe’s strongest regional party. Since the CSU is pretty much opposed to Turkey’s full membership, Merkel is yielding to her key partner on Turkey in order to keep the CSU as a strong partner in the elections.
It is simple arithmetic. Merkel knows that the tradeoff for courting Turkish voters is big and that is why she is willing to let go some 10 percent of votes she could get from Turks that overwhelmingly vote for Social Democrats or the Greens. German evangelicals, staunch opponents of Turkeys EU bid as well, alone can muster enough votes for Merkel to compensate losses from the Turkish constituency. It was not by chance that the German chancellor in February visited ancient churches in Cappadocia, located in the Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir, where early Christians took refuge in Roman times. It was a message nicely played to that evangelical constituency back home.
Therefore, it was not surprising to see that the CDU/CSU election program said Turkey would overburden the EU because of its size and economy. The parties also stopped using the term “privileged partnership” to describe the preferred relationship between Turkey and the EU and reiterated their long-standing opposition to its accession instead. “We reject full membership for Turkey because the country does not meet the criteria for joining the EU,” the election program says. Merkel played a similar game on the eve of both the 2005 and 2009 parliamentary elections, and then softened her approach to do business with Turkey.
Will Merkel’s game work this time around? The tension with Turkey may consolidate center-right votes for Merkel’s CDU/CSU right-wing coalition and even attract far-right neo-Nazi voters. But she will be doing a great disservice to German national interests by risking a major clash with Turkey. By adopting a containment policy to slow down the rise of Turkish economic and political power, Merkel is inviting the wrath of Turkey, which may have no option but to resort to a tit-for-tat policy to punish Germany.
Well at least one issue was cleared up for everybody: Germany can no longer hide behind the French, the Austrians, the Dutch and even the Greek Cypriots for stalling Turkish membership talks. The public expose was indeed good news. Whether or not Germany will give a go ahead for the opening of Chapter 22 is a moot point after this.