Turkey, Germany agree to resolve disagreements through dialogue
ANKARA: Turkey, Germany agree to resolve disagreements through dialogue
ANKARA: In line with its new-year resolution to “reduce its enemies and increase its friends,” as expressed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently, Turkey is extending an olive branch to Germany after months of troubled relations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel met for talks in the latter’s hometown Goslar on Saturday. They had previously met in November in Cavusoglu’s hometown Antalya.
During a press conference with Gabriel after Saturday’s meeting, Cavusoglu announced that they agreed to resolve disagreements through dialogue and cooperation.
“We have found an opportunity here, in a genuine atmosphere as in Antalya, to evaluate what we can do to improve our relations,” Cavusoglu said.
“As Gabriel said, we do not have to be of the same mind on every issue, but it is better that we put our differences of opinion in parenthesis and move on.”
Cavusoglu also hinted at the possibility of dialogue with Germany on updating the customs union deal between Turkey and the EU, although last year German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would veto such an update.
Gabriel praised Turkey’s contribution to the EU in managing refugee flows, saying: “We don’t agree on everything, but we are committed to resolve the common challenges.”
Turkish-German relations hit rock-bottom in 2017, especially after the arrest of several German nationals over terror charges, and a ban on Turkish politicians from campaigning ahead of Turkey’s constitutional referendum in April and September’s national elections in Germany, where about 3 million Turks live.
But Ankara expects relations to warm in 2018. In a recent interview with German news agency DPA, Cavusoglu said the time had come for both countries to start mending ties.
He referred to the case of Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German journalist held in pre-trial detention in Turkey last year in February on accusations of terror propaganda, without any indictment yet. Cavusoglu said the government has urged the judiciary to accelerate the process.
Days after, in an Op-Ed written for German publishing group Funke Mediengruppe, Cavusoglu called for a “fresh start” with Germany.
He said both countries should come together “as equal partners” and develop more empathy toward each other, rather than conducting “megaphone diplomacy.”
Turkey’s gradual release of German nationals, most recently pilgrim David Britsch and journalist Mesale Tolu, also improved relations, though there are still about a dozen Germans waiting to go free.
Ankara expects from Berlin the extradition of several people connected to the failed coup attempt in 2015 and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who have sought asylum in Germany.
The German government last March instructed federal authorities to ban PKK flags and the public display of images of its leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is in jail in Turkey. But Berlin is taking caution in terms of normalizing relations with Ankara.
“If we do not speak to one another, the situation can certainly not improve,” Gabriel told the weekly magazine Der Spiegel on Friday.
He said Germany will not authorize a large number of arms exports to Turkey until Yucel’s case has been resolved.
Germany has been Turkey’s biggest trade partner for over a century, with bilateral trade amounting to €174 billion ($209.91 billion) over the last five years. The two countries are also important NATO allies.
“Cavusoglu’s visit to Gabriel’s hometown is another step in their attempts to improve relations, first on the personal level and then on the political one,” Magdalena Kirchner, a fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, told Arab News.
“These days it seems, the release of Yucel remains the main obstacle for any form of normalization, and as there are reports that this might happen in the coming weeks, things could improve swiftly.”
Kirchner said if domestic politics stay as they are in Turkey, bilateral relations might return to a pragmatic working level, but significant progress on EU accession — the main project of German-Turkish relations since 1999 — would be hard to imagine.
“As we’ve seen in the last year, the disadvantages of bad relations are high, not only economically but also with regard to Germany’s large Turkish community, which had been polarized and in parts even estranged from German politics,” she said.
“Turkey needs Germany as a partner in Brussels if it ever wants to have its EU accession aim realized, but also for any alternative scenario of EU-Turkey relations,” Kirchner added, underlying various common interests in the Middle East, especially controlling migration flows in Syria and Iraq, which require normalizing bilateral ties.
“Improved German-Turkish relations are a requirement, and a first step for better cooperation between Turkey and other EU countries,” she said.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said although Saturday’s meeting hints at the possibility of normalizing German-Turkish ties, it is not necessarily a return to the relationship in 2016, when Merkel visited Turkey several times.
“The visit by Erdogan to Paris on Friday, and then this meeting between Cavusoglu and Gabriel, will significantly weaken the argument for suspending (EU) accession negotiations with Turkey,” he told Arab News.
But Unluhisarcikli said further steps, such as updating the customs union or visa liberalization, look almost impossible until Turkey reverses the recent democratic backslide.
“Putting an end to emergency rule, and reforming the counterterrorism law so it’s applicable only to terrorists, are two issues the EU will watch closely,” he added.