German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is making a two-day visit to Turkey in the latest step in warming relations between the two countries.
Last year, bilateral relations plummeted to the point that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of using “Nazi methods.”
But before leaving for Ankara, Maas said “we are determined to keep working hard to improve our relations. Turkey is more than a large neighbor, it is an important partner of Germany.”
Maas will meet Erdogan and top Turkish ministers.
The visit is to prepare for Erdogan’s state visit to Berlin later this month, a rare privilege in Europe, analysts say, given Turkey’s poor human rights record.
Looking for help
“There indeed seems to be a warming of relations between Turkey and Germany,” said political analyst Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Edam research group. “Turkey’s relationship with its other big partner in the West, the United States, is under tension. So,there is a real willingness in Ankara to improve the relations with key European countries, primarily Germany.”
Last month’s imposition of U.S. tariffs on Turkish goods triggered a collapse in Turkey’s currency, threatening a financial crisis. The Turkish and German finance ministers are to meet in Berlin later this month to reportedly discuss financial support for Turkey.
Until recently, Erdogan had threatened to look east toward Moscow, in response to souring ties with Washington and Europe. But analysts point out that Turkish financial woes and the deepening crisis in Syria, underscore the limits of Ankara’s relationship with Moscow.
“There was always a consciousness in Ankara that Russia could never really be a strategic partner to Turkey,” Ulgen said. “Namely, there continue to be fundamental differences on how the two countries look at developments in the region, be it Syria, Ukraine, Crimea.”
“Secondly,” he added, “Russia is not an economic partner in the sense that the IMF [International Monetary Fund] or EU could ever be,” he added, “so expectations in terms that Russia could be helpful in an economic downturn scenario in Turkey were always very superficial.”
Turkey’s human rights record is seen as a significant stumbling block to any improvement in relations with the EU.
Maas said he would call on Turkish authorities for the release of seven German citizens, which Berlin claims are being held for political reasons.German politicians are accusing Ankara of pursing hostage diplomacy.
Ankara insists the Turkish judiciary is independent. But in the past few months, Turkish courts have released German journalists Deniz Yucel and Mesale Tolu.
Analysts warn if Ankara is seeking significant improvement in its ties with Berlin and the wider European Union, it will have to take substantial steps toward complying with EU standards on human rights defined by the Copenhagen Criteria.
“The EU demand of meeting the Copenhagen Criteria requires having some kind of democratic regime — some kind of independent judiciary, some role for checks and balances,” said political analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners. “You cannot put people in jail for their postings on social media or arrest journalists for writing something Erdogan doesn’t like. These practices need to stop.”
“Ankara is looking for a relationship that is devoid of political conditionality. From the European perspective, that will not be possible,” Ulgen said.
Analysts claim the decline in human rights in Turkey means Ankara’s EU membership hopes are all but finished.
“This vocation of becoming a full EU member is over,” said former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen. “Now, even to renew the customs union is not going to happen this year or next.”
“But yet separately,” he added, “those countries in the European Union are the biggest trade partners of Turkey, and it will remain so,” he added. “Especially Turkey and Germany enjoy a special relationship with many problems, but no country can replace Germany for Turkish industry, and Turkey needs more industrial production to get out of this dire straits in Turkey.”
Analysts say an EU agreement with Turkey to control migrants entering European countries remains a compelling reason for Berlin and the rest of the bloc to improve relations and maintain Turkey’s economic stability.
“Given that both parties now realize that Turkey’s accession is unfeasible, at least for the foreseeable future, a new relationship will have to be defined,” Ulgen said. “A new balance has to be struck overall.”