On Oct. 3, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke by phone to his German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, for the second time since the German elections on Sept. 24.
Following the elections, Angela Merkel walked into her historic fourth consecutive term in office when her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), won. Turkish Premier Binali Yildirim sent a congratulatory letter to the German chancellor right after her victory.
On Sept. 22, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also hinted at the government’s willingness to reconcile with Germany by saying that bilateral relations would “go back to normal after the German elections.” This is despite his having called the CDU before the elections “enemies of Turkey” and urged the Turkish diaspora in Germany not to vote for its candidates.
This new rhetoric regarding bilateral ties is not limited to Turkish politicians. Germany does not seem to dwell on the issue as Merkel said at a press conference in Berlin on Aug. 29. She pointed out that although Berlin-Ankara relations were passing through a very complicated phase, she wanted to improve relations with Turkey.
Only a few weeks ago, such a positive statement would have seemed far-fetched. She had earlier promised to veto the modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and to discuss with her EU partners the possibility of ending accession talks with Ankara.
Turkish politicians’ repeated suggestions of “Nazi-style practices” in Germany when local German authorities banned pro-referendum rallies which Turkish politicians planned to attend, and the arrest of German citizens, including a journalist and a human rights activist, left an unforgettable stain on the relationship during the past few months.
On Wednesday, a German-Turkish national jailed in Turkey four months ago was released; however, 11 Germans are still detained in Turkey for what Berlin sees as politicized charges.
Nonetheless, in the short term, experts do not expect any major change in relations despite the recent steps taken toward reconciliation.
Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, thinks that given the outcome of the election, Germany will be looking inward for the next few weeks, if not months, until a government can be formed. Turkey’s focus has, however, shifted dramatically to the east because of the KRG referendum.
“Even if relations returned to a ‘business as usual’ mode, especially in terms of economic and security cooperation, there would be no joint momentum regarding the question of Turkey’s EU accession,” Kirchner told Arab News.
“All German parties have expressed their expectations that German citizens detained in Turkey should be released swiftly and access to German authorities for those remaining in prison should be granted. Yesterday’s release of a German detainee could be another small step in that direction,” she added.
Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD) Berlin representative Alper Ucok agrees. “After the Lower Saxony elections and the EU summit on Oct. 19-20, the coalition negotiations will begin in Germany. They will take longer than the average coalition building. This period might give some space and time in both countries for good will/trust building until the end of this year,” Ucok told Arab News.
However, Ucok added: “If both countries do not use this transition period for further de-escalation, from the beginning of 2018 with the new German government in place, there is a great risk of even more escalation.”
“As Germany leans toward the right after the elections, one should expect that to have some impact on its policy-making in the medium term,” he said.
In terms of trust building steps from the German side, Kirchner does not expect much agreement concerning Ankara’s demands of Berlin, especially extraditing coup suspects who fled to Germany.
“But the bilateral discussions about counterterrorism, extradition, and Turkish asylum seekers in EU countries will stay on the agenda,” she noted.
Although the two NATO allies have many common interests, such as economic cooperation, the joint fight against terrorism, and managing global migration, Kirchner thinks that meaningful alliances require an understanding that going it together is better than going it alone but that is unfortunately not always the case.
Berlin recently transferred its reconnaissance and refueling aircraft from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to Jordan due to the rising tensions in recent months. The base is also used by the US-led anti-Daesh coalition as a staging post for the air campaign in Syria and Iraq.
“But, at this point, it is the key to restoring trust lost in the past months and coordinating more closely on common challenges,” she added.
As Germany is home to nearly three and half million Turks, the election of 14 Turkish-origin Germans to the Bundestag — an increase of three — is also considered a matter of pride in some circles in Turkey.
According to Ucok, there is a need for more content-based dialogue for trust building in German-Turkish relations.
“There are many tools which have not been not used recently. A Turkish-German intergovernmental joint Cabinet meeting should be convened in early 2018,” he said.