Merkel’s visit marks a turn in Turkish-German frost

As the crisis shows signs of further deepening with the new uncertainties in the wake of Italian ‘non-elections’, Germany is more under strain to keep the EU intact. Berlin has to deal not only with the growing anti-unionism in the Mediterranean strip of the EU (all the way from Cyprus through Portugal), but also with an uneasy Britain and impatient Turkey on the continents both flanks.

In that context, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey must be added as another positive step toward melting the icy relationship between Ankara and the EU.

It follows two other important recent steps. First, France unblocked a chapter coming during the current talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and secondly, Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly (57.5 percent) voted for the Democratic Rally (DISY) leader, Nicos Anastasiades in the presidential election, a strong signal of a mood change on the island.

Merkel’s visit was long overdue. It has been well-noted that she has visited Turkey only once in three years, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited Germany four times. Should it be interpreted as the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) now being in accord with its coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), about the strategic importance, economic performance and crucial democratic transformation of Turkey? Perhaps. One can hope that the visit and the positive sound of her messages indicate a long-lasting change of mind.

Cynics have seen “no progress” between Erdoğan and Merkel on Turkey’s EU accession process. But the truth is, Merkel not only endorsed France’s unblocking move, but also signaled that other chapters may follow, with perhaps a second one even before the end of the Irish term presidency in the EU. One understands that she needs to balance very carefully in an election year for Germany on a subject which can shake and stir the votes.

But deep down she knows that she has the backing of some party heavyweights about remaining committed to coalition protocol on Turkey’s accession and support for it to continue.

There are many aspects to why Germany should be more active, frank and clear about its relations with Turkey and its policy on the EU negotiations.  Pro-EU arguments based on today’s Turkish economy speak for themselves, as outlined by Kemal Derviş, the vice president of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and a former minister of economic affairs of Turkey, for the daily Handelsblatt on Feb. 25, 2013 in an article titled “Die Politik is am Zug” (“The policy is on track”). Apart from fine figures on inflation, growth, reduced deficit, employment, strong currency and reserves, German politicians do look with admiration at “hardworking” Turks (a virtue they value highly), when they compare them with the Mediterranean citizens of the EU. Turkey with such an economy is now too big for Germany to ignore, and far too important to be seen only as a simple trading partner, no doubt. Therefore, the tough visa regulations and the particularly rigid implementation of it attributed to German general councils in Turkey must be eased; liberalized in the sense that, once having passed a security check, Turkish citizens must be given five-year, multiple-entry Schengen visas.

Nor should there be any doubt that increasing defense cooperation through NATO on Syria creates a new momentum for Berlin to realize more deeply Turkey’s significance on the southeastern flank of the continent, as it shoulders increasing burdens. Stability in Turkey, in that sense, can be said to be serving the stability of Germany, and of Europe as a whole.

Merkel did not say much on Turkey’s Kurdish peace process, but given the presence of large, politicized Turkish, Alevi and Kurdish communities in her own country — take it for granted that solutions on all social rifts here will ease tensions there. Interests overlap. And in that case, it is demanded that Germany more thoroughly consider indirect, discreet assistance to endorse Turkey in its struggle against historical demons. The EU membership process, kept alive and well, is the best help.

Merkel is certainly right in her arguments about Cyprus, even if it is an issue that still needs time, given the stalemate. But, it has become also clear that Erdoğan is willing to resolve the issue in a broader context. He expects a complementary signal from Anastasiades, and has in mind a “package solution” that should involve Cypriots as well as Greece, energy and economic cooperation, and have the backing of Britain. Germany can play a crucial role for the Eastern Mediterranean, if Erdogan’s ideas make any sense.

2013-02-26

 

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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