What changed in Turkish-German relations during the Merkel era?
On October 16, German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid her farewell visit to Turkey. During the Merkel period, during which Germany was ruled by coalition governments for 16 years, Ankara and Berlin worked hard to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship. Besides the strong relationship the two countries have established in the past for political and economic reasons, the various interests, opportunities and dependencies of the agreement have deepened over the past 16 years, especially in the area of economics. . On the other hand, the two countries have faced various challenges due to the activities of the PKK and the Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ) in Germany as well as Turkey’s accession process to the European Union.
Despite the tensions in bilateral political relations, Turkey and Germany established a strong economic relationship during Merkel’s tenure. In this context, it should be noted that Merkel placed importance on increasing trade relations with Turkey as well as with other countries, in accordance with Germany’s identity as a “trading state”. . When looking at the record of the last 16 years of trade relations, which can be considered as the anchor of bilateral relations, the volume of Turkish-German trade amounted to around 23 billion dollars (219.36 billion dollars). of TL) when Merkel took office in 2005. Thanks to the measures taken on a “win-win” basis in the framework of mutual interests, this volume of trade has almost doubled and is now approaching the level of 40 billion dollars.
On the other hand, due to Turkey’s population of over 80 million, its stable political structure compared to other countries in the region, growing purchasing power and wide market opportunities , German investors turned their attention to Turkey. As a result, the number of companies with German capital partnership in Turkey has grown from around 1,300 in 2005 to around 7,250 today. Therefore, it remains an objective reality that the economic pillar of Turkish-German relations has strengthened quantitatively during the Merkel period. Despite this, since the customs union between Turkey and the EU could not be updated, the Turkish-German trade volume remained below the long-targeted level of $ 50 billion.
During the Merkel period, there was also a partial change in the scope of trade between Turkey and Germany. Until 2005, Turkey mainly exported low value added products to Germany, but today it also exports high value added motor vehicles, machinery and chemicals. The portfolio of products exported from Germany to Turkey has remained virtually the same. However, the investment portfolio of German companies in Turkey has grown. German companies, which invested mainly in the manufacturing and service sectors in Turkey until 2005, are now making pioneering investments in the renewable energy sector. Therefore, it can be said that Turkish-German economic relations have both expanded in terms of quantity and deepened in terms of quality over the past 16 years.
PKK and FETÖ activities
The issue of the PKK, a chronic problem in Turkish-German relations, has been on the political agenda during Merkel’s 16-year tenure. Turkey has always reacted to the fact that the terrorist organization has resided in Germany for many years and carries out its anti-Turkey actions across Europe from there. Although European countries and the EU institutionally recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization, the “non-governmental organizations” established by the PKK in Germany have been thorns on Turkey’s side. In addition, the violent attacks carried out by the organization against the Turkish diaspora in Germany are among the developments that have exacerbated the tensions in Turkish-German relations. For this, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the activities of the PKK in Germany during almost all of his talks with his German counterpart.
Apart from the PKK, after the treacherous coup attempt of July 15, Germany made a profile that supported the organization by granting asylum to FETÖ activists, another negative development that coincided with the Merkel period. At a time when relations are in a fragile period, FETÖ’s presence in Germany and tolerant FETÖ activities there have led to a fundamental question: “Why does Germany support anti-Turkish terrorism?” It was in fact the most important development that brought Turkish-German relations to a breaking point during the Merkel period.
EU accession process
Turkey’s EU accession process was an issue that was never taken off the agenda of Turkish-German relations during the Merkel era. In fact, Merkel’s predecessor, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroder, strongly supported Turkey’s EU membership. In fact, it was Schroder who convinced the leaders of other EU member states in 2004 that full membership negotiations with Turkey should be opened provided they meet the Copenhagen criteria. However, unlike Schroder, Merkel openly opposed Turkey’s accession to the EU in accordance with her conservative political identity. In fact, after taking office, Merkel put the so-called “privileged partnership” model for Turkey on the agenda. Due to this policy, Merkel has not taken constructive action on issues such as opening new negotiating chapters, updating the EU Customs Union and removing visas for citizens. Turkish.
Although Merkel did not provide the expected support for Turkey’s EU membership, she did not hesitate to take the initiative on behalf of the EU when necessary. In fact, in times of crisis Turkey has often called on Berlin to maintain relations with the EU. At such times, Brussels received help from Berlin to relaunch relations with Ankara. For example, Merkel’s Germany played an important role in mediating the granting of financial aid to Turkey in the fight against irregular migration and in signing the famous March 18 accord.
Likewise, demands by France, the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece to suspend Turkey’s membership and impose heavy sanctions on it due to developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea have also been repressed by Merkel. So, when Turkey-EU relations reached a breaking point, the Merkel government acted rationally and favored dialogue with Turkey. As a result, it avoided possible major crises that would create serious depressions in Turkey-EU relations.
Overall, Merkel’s last 16 years in power will be recorded in history as one of the most active periods in Turkish-German relations. The efforts of Erdoğan and Merkel to act as two rational actors on the axis of mutual interests have become the main drivers of this 16-year dynamism.