Erdogan in the Realpolitik Homeland
A planned November visit to Berlin by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned out to be quite short but no less impactful than his recent statements. Unfazed by the "foreign field" factor, Erdogan effectively used his foreign visit in his own interests. The Turkish president visited Berlin for the first time in five years. His November 17 visit was accompanied by heightened security measures, although it can't be described as overly extensive. Rather, it was a VIP interaction and a practical lesson in realpolitik from powerful politicians.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier and met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz, with whom he held a joint press conference. By the way, the joint press conference was agreed upon at the last minute.
Germany is home to about 2.5 million Turks, one in five of whom holds German citizenship. Germany is also one of the leaders in foreign investments in the Turkish economy, with 7,640 German companies operating in Turkey. According to the Central Bank of Turkey, Germany made approximately $11.147 billion in foreign direct investments (FDI) in Turkey from 2005 to 2022. The volume of bilateral trade between Turkey and Germany reached $45.177 billion in 2022. Compared to 2021, exports increased by 8.67%, and imports increased by 9.59%. It's also worth considering the flow of German tourists, each leaving at least €1,200 per week in Turkey. In 2022, Turkey was visited by 5.7 million tourists from Germany.
In other words, the relations between the two countries are more than close. However, this fact does not exempt them from challenges. Germany, as one of the EU's leading countries, is interested in continuing the agreement to stem the flow of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. This influx causes serious concerns, especially against the backdrop of recent anti-Semitic disturbances in Germany. Conversely, the country is home to over a million refugees from Ukraine, actively integrating into local society, even those planning to return home after defeating Russia or even earlier.
For the Scholz coalition government, it is crucial to pursue a balanced social policy, as any missteps could negatively impact its positions in the upcoming federal state elections. Chancellor Scholz must have successful stories in areas that greatly concern German society.
Turkey is a country that receives a colossal number of refugees, including four million Syrians. The Turkish population is not thrilled about this burden, particularly amid a persistent economic crisis. The EU-Turkey agreement since 2016, crucial to Brussels and therefore Berlin, prevents even more people from entering Germany, where illegal migration is already considered a major political problem.
So, negotiations with Erdogan were supposed to lay the groundwork for future successes. But Erdogan also has more than substantial reasons to deal with Scholz.
Turkey faces difficulties in obtaining approval from the US to sell F-16 fighter jets, so it seeks to buy 40 Eurofighter jets, which is impossible without Germany's favourable stance. Berlin and Ankara are also pushed toward dialogue by an annual trade turnover of over €45 billion. Therefore, it's not surprising that Olaf Scholz did not cancel Erdogan's visit to Berlin despite the Turkish president's sharp rhetoric in recent weeks.
Throughout his tenure, Erdogan has tried to secure the role of an arbiter and mediator between the West and the East. One can recall the highly successful deal between Ankara and Brussels during the influx of Syrian refugees in 2015-2016. It's also worth remembering Ankara's attempts to simultaneously buy Russian and American weapons, albeit not very successfully.
During his state visit to Germany, Recep Tayyip Erdogan conveyed three key messages to the West: to purchase Eurofighters, to push the EU accession process, and to open a visa-free regime for Turkish citizens visiting the EU. This, as they say, is just the beginning.
Accompanying these demands were powerful calls for a "humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza, as Erdogan considers support from the Muslim-Arab world crucial.
However, Turkey's position should not be considered weak or unsubstantial. Turkey is an indispensable NATO partner. So, Berlin has to smile even against the backdrop of Erdogan's not very polite statements. Germany is also interested in Turks finally ceasing to block Sweden's NATO accession. This point was also discussed, but the results are not yet very audible.
Middle Eastern and Eastern Vectors
However, the Turkish president has decided not to adhere too strictly to diplomatic norms and has demonstrated his intention to play by his own rules. Recep Tayyip Erdogan distributed a series of offensive characterizations to Olaf Scholz during negotiations with Frank-Walter Steinmeier and continued this line during a press conference with the chancellor. He not only called on Israel to "release 10,000 hostages," after which negotiations could begin for the release of Israelis and foreigners captured by HAMAS on October 7, but also emphasized that Germany cannot criticize Israel because of the Holocaust.
Erdogan's position should be given special attention here because he struck a blow to German foreign policy right at the Berlin press point. The denazification and the instilling of a sense of guilt for Nazi war crimes by Western allies after World War II truly laid the foundations for Germany's Middle Eastern policy, allowing Erdogan to harshly criticize the leadership of the FRG right in Berlin. Such verbal escapades, of course, are long remembered, and it's unlikely that Turkey has come closer to EU membership. As for the sale of fighter jets, it's unlikely to materialize, but Erdogan could not be stopped.
His assertive zeal has a logical explanation: Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces primarily geopolitical tasks. By turning the political leadership of Germany into sparring partners, he demonstrated his desire to play an autonomous political game on a global scale. The Turkish president not only affirmed his position but did so on the field of a more powerful opponent. Hence, it's easy to guess that Erdogan will try to convert the consequences of the Berlin blitz visit into an increase in authority in the Muslim world and an attempt to engage in a dialogue on the situation in the Middle East with the United States. In this matter, Ankara has a situational ally – the Kremlin, which is indeed interested in weakening the West's position.
Turkey's eastern vector also has a strong economic foundation. The country occupies a top position as a transit point for Russian gas through pipelines. Currently, this gas is supplied to the Balkans and beyond through Turkstream. Turkey's role in the transit of Russian oil and petroleum products to the EU is not too highlighted, but it works. Turkish airlines play a role as saviors for aviation connections Russia with EU, and Istanbul competes for the position of the most powerful aviation hub in Europe.
However, Brussels, and therefore Berlin, is not too interested in the prospect of too deep integration of Turkey to the east. Hence, Erdogan was welcomed in Berlin much more hospitably than five years ago, despite his extremely sharp statements during the visit.