After years of strained ties, Erdogan has said he wants to reset relations with Berlin during a pomp and circumstance-filled visit to Germany. But German and Turkish politicians aren’t convinced it will lead to a change.
When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes to Berlin on Thursday for the start of his three-day state visit to Germany, he will have one goal in mind above all else — de-escalating tensions with his “German friends.”
In a guest op-ed in Thursday’s edition of the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Erdogan urged for Germany and Turkey to “turn over a new page” in their ties.
“It is our responsibility to rationally move our relations forward on the basis of our shared interests, quite apart from irrational fears,” Erdogan wrote.
He also outlined what he believed the German government should do in order to improve ties, including designating the Gulen movement as a terrorist organization, which Ankara blames for a failed 2016 coup. The op-ed also warned against the rise of Islamophobia and right-wing extremism in Germany.
Relations between the two countries have been strained for years, with Berlin concerned about the increasingly autocratic tendencies of Erdogan’s government and the arrests of German citizens in Turkey. According to the German Foreign Office, five Germans are currently political prisoners in Turkey.
But with Ankara now facing off with the United States over Syria and economic sanctions, Turkey has turned to Germany and the European Union in hopes of getting support to stabilize the country.
Boycotting the banquet
During his state visit, which was prompted by an invitation by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Erdogan will be received with military honors on Friday in Berlin followed by a state banquet. Two meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel are also planned. He is also scheduled to meet with Turkish groups in Germany on Thursday.
The banquet has become a political sticking point in recent days, with a number of high-ranking German politicians announcing they will boycott the dinner — though one of Erdogan’s biggest critics, Green party lawmaker Cem Özdemir, has said he will attend so that the Turkish leader will be forced to face his opposition.
Among those not attending is Sevim Dagdelen of the Left party.
“For someone who conducts mafia politics in foreign policy, who pursues opposition politicians and invades neighboring countries, the red carpet with military honors and a state banquet is totally unacceptable,” she told DW.
The chancellor’s office confirmed on Monday that Merkel would not be at the banquet — however, she rarely attends such events.
Turkey ‘too big to fail?’
For Erdogan’s government, the economy is a top priority. Although the president insists Turkey is strong enough to solve its financial problems, rising inflation, unemployment and the weak Turkish Lira suggest otherwise.
“To a certain extent, Turkey is too big to fail in the eyes of German government — which is something that President Erdogan is banking on,” said Kristian Brakel, Turkey expert at the Green-party-associated Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told DW that in order to have better economic relations, Ankara will need to address problems with rule of law and human rights.
“If Turkey hopes for an economic recovery, and if it has any expectations from Germany, the discussion should be about rule of law, not just the economy,” the CDU politician said.
Turkish opposition critical of visit
Erdogan’s critics within the opposition back home see little hope that Germany is interested in focusing on human rights in Turkey. Berlin is also concerned about maintaining a 2016 refugee deal with Turkey to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into European countries.
“Erdogan is going to Germany while crushing human rights, and under these circumstances he is being officially accepted in Germany,” Garo Paylan of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) told DW.
“This normalizes everything he is doing, and Turkey is being accepted as a country that violates human rights. The only goal of this visit is to prevent a buffer country from collapsing,” he added.
Speech at Cologne mosque
Protests against Erdogan’s visit have already started in major German cities, with some 10,000 people expected to take part in a rally in Berlin on Friday. More than 3 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany and Erdogan’s policies have polarized them too, which remains a concern for the German government.
The controversial visit will end in Cologne, where Erdogan is to officially open a mosque belonging to Turkey’s state-funded religious organization DITIB. This time, however, Erdogan won’t be speaking at an arena filled with thousands of people as he did when he visited Germany in 2014.
He may be speaking in a smaller venue, but the media attention Erdogan will receive will be significant — something the Turkish leader will seek to use to his advantage.
“He will exploit this propaganda appearance domestically to show that he is a great celebrated statesman,” Dagdelen said. “The German government has made this possible for him.”
DW’s Hilal Köylü contributed reporting from Ankara.