Relations between Germany and Turkey—and by extension the EU—are unlikely to improve as the new coalition government in Germany takes shape.
Leaders from the European Union and Turkey will meet in Varna, Bulgaria on March 26, 2018. This meeting is expected to relieve tensions between the EU and Turkey. However, the possible coalition deal that will be reached in Germany is likely to have a profound affect on this meeting.
According to the coalition draft of “GroKo” (Grand coalition: CDU, CSU and SPD) there will be no movement on Turkey’s EU ambitions. No new chapters will be opened, and no open chapters will be closed.
The return of the grand coalition in Germany
The coalition negotiations that have been going on for months in Berlin have led to an unprecedented crisis in modern German politics.
Germany will once again be ruled by a grand coalition, yet all parties hate the deal. The entry of the far-right AfD party into the German parliament has made coalition talks even more difficult. It also means that a far-right party is now the official opposition to the Grand Coalition, introducing a new and toxic dynamic in a fractured political system.
Soon after the 167-page coalition agreement was finalised the SPD leader Martin Schulz announced that he would submit the coalition draft to nearly 500,000 members of his party to get their approval before signing the agreement.
Accordingly, SPD members voted between February 20 and March 2 on the reached agreement and the results will be announced on March 4.
If grassroots members of the SPD reject the coalition deal, the current German political crisis will continue, further weakening the EU's most significant power. This probably won't happen as the SPD won't want to sacrifice control of the Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Labour and Social Affairs ministries, which are considered to be the most important ministries in Germany. Merkel had to give up on these important ministries in order to cling onto power after exhausting all the other formulas.
Unexpectedly, the SPD leader Martin Schulz has also resigned from his position. His party had the worst result in the history of the SPD capturing little over 20 percent of the vote. His inconsistent positions cost him credibility amongst the rank and file members.
Soon after the election he stated that he wouldn’t form a coalition with the CDU (Angela Merkel's party) but then decided to enter into aa coalition. He said that he wouldn’t be a minister in the coalition but then he announced that he would like to be a minister. After promising the sitting Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel that he would continue to hold his current ministerial position he again changed course, expressing a desire to become Foreign Affairs Minister. Having lost trust and authority within the party, Schulz had no choice but to resign.
Expectations of restoring EU-Turkey relations
After troubled relations in 2017 between several EU countries and Turkey, there was a mutual desire to improve relations. These expectations were heightened at the beginning of January, when Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel hosted his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu.
An additional important step to restore relations between the EU and Turkey was the invitation letter by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 26, in Varna, Bulgaria.
Although these negotiations have created the impression that there is an improvement in relations, that is not the case. Developments in European countries, especially in Germany, show that it’s unlikely relations will improve significantly.
From Turkey’s side, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said he was hopeful regarding the new government in Germany and reaffirmed Turkey’s aim for full membership of the EU.
The expectation from the new German government is to open a new page in Turkish-German relations. In addition, a possible improvement in relations with Germany can be interpreted as an improvement in EU-Turkey relations.
On the other hand, the coalition government that emerges in Germany is important in the context of Turkey's EU membership.
Germany's upcoming coalition has made it clear that it opposes Turkey's EU membership. In essence, Germany’s new Grand Coalition is closing the doors of the EU to Turkey.
Another important point in the draft text is that Turkey is addressed under the title of “bilateral and regional relations,” not under the title of "European Union."
Compare this to the previous grand coalition agreement signed in 2013 in which Turkey was addressed under the headlines of "A strong Europe", "European Foreign and Security Policy" and in the context of EU enlargement process.
So what does the draft of the German government mean for the EU and Turkey?
Turkey has been kept waiting at the door of the EU for almost half-a-century, and it is likely that it will continue to be exposed to the double standards of the EU in the coming years. Considering the influence of Germany on smaller states within the EU, the next four years might be tough on Turkey.
Since Turkey is fulfilling the remaining seven conditions for visa liberation, it is pushing the EU to proceed towards a new phase. If members of the SDP approve the coalition at the beginning of March and an anti-Turkey government comes to power in germany, the leaders’ meeting will be affected substantially, and most likely not in a positive way.
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