Commentary, Politics, World

Political Relations Between Turkey and Germany

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The political relations between Turkey and Germany have been in a tidal wave of symmetry and asymmetry, especially in terms of the EU.

While the political relations between Turkey and Germany have been in a tidal wave of symmetry and asymmetry, especially in terms of the EU, the labor force agreement signed on 30 October 1961 that led to the emergence of a Turkish population in Germany, added a new dimension to the relations between the two countries. When we take into account the bilateral economic relations, the role of this population becomes even clearer. In 2015, for example, there was a $35 billion trade between Germany and Turkey. The volume of Turkish investment in Germany amounts to $2 billion whereas German investment in Turkey adds up to $8.4 billion. Nearly 100,000 Turkish businesses in Germany yield a total revenue of $50 billion each year. While Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Centers based in Berlin and Cologne are active in the cultural arena, the 263 weekly flight services provided by Turkish Airlines are an important factor with regard to the mobilization of large numbers of people between the countries.The over 3 million Turkish population in Germany not only constitutes an important aspect of Turkish-German political relations but, provided that it is properly appreciated, also bears the potential of turning those relations into a permanent alliance. Yet, Germany takes the stance that Turks in Germany will necessarily lose their ties to Turkey once they have become German citizens. Nevertheless, the increasing number of people who consider both countries as their homes and have thus formed a transnational identity will enhance bilateral opportunities.

The volume of Turkish investment in Germany amounts to $2 billion whereas German investment in Turkey adds up to $8.4 billion.

Instead of implementing a German national integration policy which aims at assimilating the Turkish population, considering both multilingualism and multiculturalism to be a richness and taking steps within this framework will foster mutual trust in the bilateral relations. Preserving the language and cultural presence of autochthonous as well as allochtonous minorities, such as the Turks who migrated to Germany later on, is a vital necessity. However, if this necessity is politicized within debates over “adaptation,” Turkey’s meeting its responsibilities towards its own citizens in Germany will also be problematized and inevitably raise the tensions between the two countries. This became obvious during the Turkish presidential elections in 2014, when Turkish citizens voted from Germany and thereby caused a “crisis of belonging.”

Yet, many opportunities for collaboration between Turkey and Germany can be accomplished via the Turkish population in Germany. Revising the Cultural Partnership Agreement signed by Turkey and Germany in 1958, for example, will contemporize the cultural relations between the two countries, taking into account the huge populations in each of the countries as well as the new circumstances. The revision could intensify cooperation in the educational and cultural spheres. It could address impediments to further cooperation, such as visa and tax regulations or processes of institutionalization. Treaties over educational and cultural cooperation that Germany signed with France, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan could serve as a model.

Problematic Aspects of the Bilateral Relations: Islamophobia and Institutional Racism

As a result of racist political parties becoming the strongest or second-strongest force in European elections a value crisis emerged in Europe. Rallies against Muslims, attacks on mosques, racist parties passing the electoral thresholds and so obtaining seats in regional parliaments have been noted with suspicion by the Turkish public. The expectations of the Turkish population in Germany, with regard to Turkey taking a more active role, are thus quite understandable.

As a result of racist political parties becoming the strongest or second-strongest force in European elections a value crisis emerged in Europe.

Currently homophobic and anti-Semitic acts of crime are documented in Germany in order to create public awareness and make the government accountable. However, although it has been demanded for quite a long time, the documentation of Islamophobic acts of crime until recently was not addressed by the Federal Government at all. In 2015, 82 attacks on mosques alone were recorded by NGOs. Those who are most affected by racist attacks are the members of the Turkish minority in Germany. When looking at the historical trajectory, the continuity between the alienation of Turks as “the absolute Other” by some groups today and the Turkish Wars of the 16th century, joined by German lords, becomes obvious. Not only does the Federal Government not adequately combat hostility towards Islam and foreigners, but also by openly sympathizing with the extreme right’s baseless “fears” it even encourages right-wing populist positions within mainstream society. This, of course, puts the Turks in Germany in an even more defenseless position, vis-à-vis hate crimes.

On the other hand, Germany’s attitude towards Islamic organizations contradicts its foreign policy agenda on the freedom of religion. Although the larger Islamic organizations in Germany fulfil all legal requirements, the full implementation of their institutional rights is constantly postponed under political pretexts. Ultimately, they are denied public rights which are granted to other religious communities.

Germany’s attitude towards Islamic organizations contradicts its foreign policy agenda on the freedom of religion.

The murders of eight Turks in Germany committed by the NSU terror organization between 2000 and 2007 remain a still unexplained and shameful stain, caused by the flaws of the intelligence services. The NSU managed to commit atrocities and shed blood all over the country without being discovered by the police or the intelligence services for over sixteen years. The main reason for this was that the country’s security forces, despite many strong indications, categorically excluded racist motives behind the crimes. Most of the recommendations of the Federal Parliament’s NSU enquiry commission on combating racism that were yielded to the judicial, security and intelligence units of the country are still not being taken into account. A report delivered to the United Nation’s commission on racism by the lawyers of the NSU case, some German NGOs and academics also pointed to the deficits with regard to institutional racism. All in all, those incidents have shown that the issue of institutional racism and above all of Islamophobia is not tackled by Germany in a proper manner.

Security Issues: PKK, DHKP-C, ISIL

The fact that Berlin is not very effective in fighting against the terrorist organization PKK is proven with data from the reports of the German Federal and State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution. The relativization of terrorist attacks against Turkey and of organizations that are an open threat to Turkey’s internal security, such as the PKK, and not taking a determined stance against terror affairs are all factors that cause tensions in the bilateral relations.

Although the PKK is forbidden by law in Germany, it is de facto treated like a legal organization.

Although the PKK is forbidden by law in Germany, it is de facto treated like a legal organization. The substitute organizations of the PKK, whose names and structural characteristics are noted in the above-mentioned intelligence reports, thus need to be examined by the German jurisdiction and banned through official channels. However, the contrary is the case. The PKK can easily hold protests in front of the Federal Parliament building, spread its propaganda even via daily newspapers, collect large donations and tributes and continue its military training in Germany. Many from Europe –and Germany in particular– joined Kandil in order to support terrorist activities. This of course has a negative impact on how the Turkish public views Germany. Another factor that harms the trust in bilateral relations is the close ties of the German Left Party to the PKK as well as the Green Party’s open and unconditional support for the HDP.

New Opportunities in Light of the Refugee Crisis

Following issues such as Turkey’s EU membership, Turks living in Germany and security policies, as mentioned above, German-Turkish relations have entered a new phase with the current refugee crisis. The demands to secure national borders in order to keep refugees out of the EU have caused a serious threat to the EU’s most substantial feature, i.e. a common market without borders, and therefore to the future of the EU itself. This drew the EU not only to a crisis but also to new searches. It is at this point of the refugee crisis that Turkish-German relations facilitate new opportunities.

As over one million –mostly Muslim– refugees entered the country in 2015, Germany now has serious concerns regarding the disruption of its social structure and the alteration of its demographic balance. On the other hand, it is foreseen that the resurrection of EU borders could decrease Germany’s economic growth within the next ten years and cost Germany up to €235 billion. Yet, it is important to note Merkel’s frequent visits to Turkey over the past months. It needs to be acknowledged that Germany is the European country to admit the most refugees and that it continues its relatively humane policies despite the risk of racist parties gaining electoral victories.

Indeed, Turkey places a very high value on a liberal and pluralistic Europe.

As a matter of fact, the rising popularity of right-wing populist groups as well as openly racist political parties does not only lead Europe’s own liberal democratic claims ad absurdum. Given the mutual and profound resentments between Europe and the Islamic world it is also against Turkey’s interests. Indeed, Turkey places a very high value on a liberal and pluralistic Europe.

This being said, there are certain areas where Turkish-German relations can be deepened as a consequence of the refugee crisis. The search for national solutions in light of this crisis could lead the two countries to focus more on issues such as strengthening the geostrategic position of the EU, protecting Schengen, stabilizing the Middle East or addressing the Russian crisis which would include Crimea and Syria. In addition to this, the new opportunities that come with the refugee crisis will ease the negotiations regarding Turkey’s EU membership. With the lifting of the visa requirement in particular Turkey’s relations to Germany with respect to the EU will enter a fundamentally different phase. In a way the privileged partnership will have been realized.

The Future of the Political Relations

Turkish-German relations had turned into a community of fate before World War I. They were reshaped in the Turkish Republican era, continued on asymmetric grounds within the framework of the European Community during the Cold War, became revitalized thanks to Schröder’s positive approach and stalled under the Merkel governments. Today, facing the refugee crisis, they stand on the threshold of new opportunities. Nevertheless, current political relations should not be limited to this crisis. Deferring the solution of the problems of the Turkish population in Germany or not properly tackling the threat of terrorism –an equally great risk for Germany– may help find solutions for some of the acute problems, but will not bring sustainability. A symmetric relation can only be possible by addressing all the issues and opportunities in detail at the Intergovernmental Consultation and Strategic Dialogue Mechanism, recently formed in order to establish comprehensive and permanent relations. Maybe conducting the very unique relations between Turkey and Germany along these lines will not only generate regional but also global effects.

Source: The full version of this article was published in Insight Turkey.

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Mustafa Yeneroğlu is the Head of the Human Rights Commission in the Turkish Parliament and Chairman of the Executive Board of the newly founded Foundation for Migration Research (GAV).