The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened a new Embassy in Berlin this week and used that platform to assert not only Germany’s importance for Turkey, but also to underscore Turkey’s changing perception of itself and its options.
Standing in front of the largest Turkish Embassy in the world, Erdoğan spoke to Germans and the roughly 2.5 million people of Turkish descent living in Germany by saying that the Embassy is a symbol of the importance Turkey attaches to relations with Germany. Measured in economic terms, the facts underline his point. Germany is not only Turkey’s most important trading partner, but it is also the biggest foreign investor in Turkey. The attractiveness of an economy growing at a rapid pace of 8% over many years − and in spite of the recent global economic crisis − speaks for itself, along with the enormous amount of German capital flowing into Turkey and the almost five million German tourists in Turkey annually. Added to that mix is the presence of the world’s largest community of Turks outside of Turkey.
Erdoğan also came to Berlin to proclaim that his fellow 75 million Turks want to be a full member of the European Union − despite the slow paced negotiating and multiple signals that many Europeans are not interested in that idea. In fact, the one Erdoğan came to visit − Chancellor Merkel − has told him before that a different kind of connection with the EU might be better for Turkey, a formula called “privileged partnership” that is something less than full membership.
As a country which presents itself as a healthy democracy and has been a member of NATO for decades, privileged partnership smacks of second class status. Merkel affirmed that the negotiations for membership would proceed, but Erdoğan has nevertheless placed a ten year limit of Turkish patience before it would run out in 2023 − the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. Erdoğan sees prejudicial doubts in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe about his Muslim-majority nation as a future EU member. And there is undoubtedly something to that suspicion.
Yet, the obstacles to full membership are also to be found in the differences between Turkey and the EU over the Turkish refusal to recognize one of the 27 members of the Union – Cyprus − given the ongoing feud with Greece over that island. Furthermore, there are unresolved questions revolving around the many and complicated dimensions of the chapters contained in the so called acquis communautaire, which all members of the EU must fulfill to qualify for membership. Crackdowns on the media, along with the arrests of an enormous number of journalists critical of Erdoğan and accusations of other human rights violations, continue to shadow negotiations between Turkey and the EU.
Erdoğan was also speaking to over 1.5 million people in Germany who are legally able to vote in Turkish elections according to Turkish law. Since he wants to be President of Turkey after his term as Prime Minister runs out next year, a bit of campaigning was not going to hurt while he was in Germany among the largest block of Turks outside of Turkey.