Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Germany aims to reset icy relations
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid his first state visit to Germany in four years on Thursday in a bid to restore deeply eroded relations and boost economic cooperation as tensions in Ankara-Berlin ties appear to have been eased.
“The priority agenda on my visit to Germany will be completely leaving behind the period experienced in recent years in our political relations,” Erdogan said.
Relations between Germany and Turkey hit rock bottom over the past two years, but in recent months both sides have taken steps towards improving ties.
There have been signs of a thaw in ties during past months since German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Turkey in early September and Turkey released one German-Turkish journalist and allowed another German citizen to leave the country.
A failed coup attempt in 2016 caused mutual mistrust and led to conflicts between Turkey and many of its Western allies including Germany.
Nearly 4,000 supporters of the Gulen movement, led by US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the coup, have fled to Germany from Turkey, local media reports.
Gulen supporters, including former soldiers and diplomats, have sought asylum in Germany. They are key suspects in the coup attempt and have not been extradited despite calls from Ankara. In 2017, Turkish authorities arrested German citizens, further straining the relations, particularly Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yucel.
He was accused of being a German “spy” and carrying out propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The German government criticized his detainment as “political hostage-taking.”
The journalist was released after 10 months in prison during a thaw in relations between the two countries.
German municipalities banned Turkish politicians from campaigning in Germany to reach Turkish expats about a 2017 Turkish referendum.
Tension further escalated after the Turkish government’s refusal to let German parliamentarians visit German troops at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, which led to redeployment of German troops to Jordan.
The Turkish president is seeking to repair ties between Turkey and European countries at a time when his nation’s economy is in slowdown with significant Turkish lira depreciation and mounting concerns about a build-up of debts.
The Turkish government is seeking new foreign investors to boost its economy. Erdogan will also meet CEOs of German companies during his visit to Berlin on Friday.
Turkish ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker Mustafa Yeneroglu, who grew up in Germany with Turkish-German citizenship, said that a delegation of German business-people will visit Turkey in October.
The Turkish president’s September 27-29 visit to Germany aims to “gain momentum for Turkish-German ties again,” Yeneroglu said. He said he hoped the visit would end tensions and open a new chapter in bilateral relations.
Germany is Turkey’s main economic and trade partner and home to more than 3 million people with Turkish roots. The bilateral trade volume reached $43.6 billion in 2017. Nearly 7,500 German companies are active in Turkey.
President Erdogan will remind his German counterpart about taking measures against terror groups including Gulenists and the PKK, said Kemal Inat, deputy coordinator of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), a think tank based in Ankara. Berlin will want to normalize relations with Turkey as it is worried about a further influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, Inat said.
Turkey has been hosting nearly 3.5 million refugees who fled war-torn Syria.
“Another issue that compels the two countries to work more closely is the US trade wars, which took a toll on global sta- bility,” said Yahya Bostan, a columnist for the Daily Sabah.
The potential impact of Washington’s sanctions on Iran might also disturb both economies, he noted.
On August 26, Peter Altmaier, a German politician serving as Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, voiced support for Turkey after the US slammed sanctions and raised tariffs on Ankara.
On Wednesday, one day ahead of his official visit, the Turkish leader called on Germany to press the reset button on their tricky relations.
“It is our responsibility to rationally move our relations forward on the basis of our shared interests, quite apart from irrational fears,” Erdogan wrote in an op-ed column published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.