German-Turkish Relations: The Downturn Continues

August 21, 2017

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey titled, “Publics Worldwide Unfavorable Toward Putin, Russia”, in few countries surveyed did people exhibit confidence in Putin to do the right thing regarding world affairs (1). Globally, a median of 60% said that they lack confidence in Putin’s global leadership. Europe emerged as the region least confident in Putin, with a median of 78% expressing a lack of confidence in the Russian President. Eight-in-ten or more in Poland (89%), Spain (88%), the Netherlands (87%), Sweden (87%) and France (80%) lack trust in Putin. The figure for Germany and Turkey is 74%.

The survey also showed that although confidence in Putin’s handling of foreign affairs is generally low, in many countries he is more trusted than American President Donald Trump. Turkey is among those countries. And, in countries where people see Russia a major threat to their country, Poland ranks first with 65% and Turkey second with 54 %.

The findings of this latest survey confirm those of an earlier one spanning 37 nations which concluded that   a median of just 22% had confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. During the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, a median of 64% had expressed confidence in him to direct America’s role in the world. The results of this earlier survey demonstrated that Trump is not the only world leader in whom global publics lack confidence. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin also got poor marks, though neither was rated as negatively as the U.S. President. By contrast, 42% expressed confidence in German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A median of 60% in Europe had confidence in Merkel, and her ratings were particularly strong on the political left, even though she hails from the right-of-center Christian Democratic Union (2). In brief, she is the trusted leader of Germany and Germany is the de facto leader of Europe. And, at present, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) is waging war against her.

Following President Trump’s election, the JDP government strived for a “reset” in relations, strange as this may sound for relations between two long-standing allies. However, by all indications, relations remain at an all-time low. Although relations with Moscow have shown some improvement after the apology over the downing of a Russian fighter jet in November 2015, bilateral cooperation is far from restored to its former level. Relations with neighbors remain problematic. In a nutshell, the Turkish government, with no foreign friends other than Qatar, seems determined to further its “precious loneliness”.

Within this broad picture German-Turkish relations merit special attention (3). With three million Turks, Germany is home to more Turks than any other country. Before Turkey’s tragic foray into the Syrian conflict dealt a crippling blow to Turkey’s tourism sector, millions of Germans visited Turkey each year. Moreover, Germany is Turkey’s leading trade partner and also the largest export market for Turkish products. Although Chancellor Merkel has never been favorably disposed toward the prospect of Turkey’s membership in the EU, her government has not blocked the accession process. None of this is to say that Ankara and Berlin should agree on every problem that confronts them. However, in view of their converging broad interests, they should be able to show a capacity to contain and resolve their differences and avoid inflammatory language.

It may be that despite its public insistence on the opening of new chapters, the Turkish government has given up all hope of reviving the EU accession process.  Under current political circumstances in Turkey this would be a realistic assessment. However, a total rupture would have the most negative consequences for Turkey’s global status which has already taken a downturn in recent years. The government also needs to bear in mind that NATO and the EU currently have twenty-two member-countries in common and NATO remains Turkey’s principal institutional link to the West. JDP leadership’s recent vitriol against the Merkel government does not serve Turkey’s interests. It does not make our case more credible. It is bad investment in relations with future governments in Berlin. Whatever legitimate grievances Ankara may have against Germany, it should address them through diplomatic channels and take them to appropriate international mechanisms if need be. Washington’s efforts to overcome its differences with North Korea through dialogue may serve as a useful example. After all, Turkey and Germany are NATO allies, at least on paper.

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(1) http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/08/16/publics-worldwide-unfavorable-toward-putin-russia/

(2) http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

(3) Turkey’s Latest Spat with Germany:

https://diplomaticopinion.com/2017/03/06/turkeys-latest-spat-with-germany/

 

 

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About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions he held in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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