Editor’s Note: Fadi Hakura is a Turkey expert and associate fellow at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an independent policy institute based in London. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, should prepare for an icy reception as he arrives for a three-day visit to Germany on Thursday.
His desire to “completely leave behind all the problems and to create a warm environment between Turkey and Germany just like it used to be” will, in all likelihood, come to naught.
Many Germans – regardless of their personal politics – dislike Turkey’s absolutist leader.
It’s doubtful that they’ve forgotten his incendiary remarks last year, when he compared German officials to Nazis. Nor will they have forgotten his provocative comments to the three million Turks living in Germany, discouraging them from assimilating in their adopted homeland.
Many Germans will blame him for not acting sooner to stem the flow of over a million Syrian migrants in 2015. Indeed, it was reported in Greek media that he had threatened to flood Europe with migrants in 2015 if it failed help him manage the refugee crisis.
And it was this influx of migrants in 2015 that gave oxygen to Germany’s far-right, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD), which won seats in the Bundestag for the first time in 2017.
Erdogan is also a divisive figure among many of Germany’s Turks – in particular, adherents of Kurdish nationalism or secular opponents of his preference for conservative Islamic values.
If reports are to be believed, he should expect to be met by large demonstrations across the country.
Yet, German officials will be aware that a total rupture with Erdogan is not in Germany’s strategic interests.
His attempt to prevent further warfare in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, not far from the Turkish border, is appreciated by Berlin.
He may have forestalled, at least for now, the cross-border surge of thousands more Syrian migrants into Turkey – and further afield into the European mainland.
Germany also has close economic ties with Turkey. It is Turkey’s second-largest trading partner and has 7,500 companies operating in Turkey, thereby making an important contribution to billions of dollars in bilateral trade in 2017. German industrial giant Siemens recently secured a massive Turkish contract to provide 10 fast trains.
So, Germany feels it has no choice but to cooperate with Erdogan – at the very least on a transactional basis – in order to maintain commercial interests, as well as stymie the flow of more migrants into Europe.
Nevertheless, Germany will not be keen to throw a lifeline to Erdogan in the midst of an unfolding economic crisis in Turkey. Germany will not provide a financial package to rescue the debt-burdened Turkish economy. Nor will it lift the veto on opening talks to modernize the 22-year-old EU-Turkey Customs Union.
His failure to release all Germans of Turkish descent detained on terrorism charges and his antagonistic attitude toward Germany are not things Germans believe to be in the past.
Equally, Erdogan is still aggrieved by Germany’s lukewarm condemnation of the 2016 botched coup – and its refusal to believe in the involvement of the followers of the Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen in the plot.
Erdogan enjoyed a political boost at home when he attacked Germany so publicly last year. But he will come to rue the day that he chose to badmouth a country he relies on as much as Germany.
He will come to understand the immortal words of American dramatist Wilson Mizner but too late: “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down.”