As months of tension with European countries begins to ease off, Turkey's premier visits the most powerful country in the EU. Leaders will seek to boost economic ties and discuss Turkey's fight against terror, both in Turkey and Syria.

Following the meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (L) to attend to Munich Security Conference.
Following the meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (L) to attend to Munich Security Conference. (AA)

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is paying an official visit to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. The meeting comes at a crucial time when relations between two countries have reached their lowest point in recent years.

According to Turkish and German officials, the two leaders will exchange views on bilateral relations and international issues, with a particular focus on the war in Syria.

But there are also several sources of friction on the agenda. The arrest of German journalist Deniz Yucel and around a dozen German citizens on suspicion of "aiding terrorist groups" has muddied the waters between Ankara and Berlin for more than a year.

Recently, mutual steps were taken to ease the tension between European nations and Turkey. One such move is the planning of a summit between the European Union (EU) leaders and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the 26th of March in Bulgaria.

Turkish ministers barred from speaking during the referendum

Relations reached  a nadir after several Turkish ministers were refused permission  — a decision that Angela Merkel backed — to address public rallies in Germany during Turkey's referendum campaign in the spring of 2017. Germany is home to nearly two million Turkish citizens.

That refusal angered Ankara. Officials accused the German government of adopting anti-Turkey slurs in a bid to win Germany's general elections in September.

Subsequently, Erdogan called on Turks in Germany not to vote for those political parties "who are against Turkey".

Change of tack? 

The Turkish prime minister's visit comes at a time when Angela Merkel’s bloc Christian Democratic Union or (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) and Martin Schulz’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) have agreed to form a coalition after months of talks started in September, 2017.

“The elections are over, we are now in a new period. It is time to turn a new page,” Yildirim said on Wednesday, in an interview with Germany’s public broadcaster ARD.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer and Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz pose after a statement on coalition talks to form a new coalition government in Berlin,Germany, February 7, 2018.
Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer and Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz pose after a statement on coalition talks to form a new coalition government in Berlin,Germany, February 7, 2018. (Reuters)

Turkey accused Germany of "backing terrorists"

Turkey also accuses Germany of providing a safe haven for PKK supporters and allowing them to hold demonstrations across German cities. 

The PKK has fought the Turkish state since the 1980s and is considered a terrorist organisation by both countries.

In June last year, the German authorities also allowed the 13th “International Zilan Women’s Festival" to proceed. The move angered Turkey yet again, as 'Zilan' is the nom de guerre of Zeynep Kinaci, a PKK suicide bomber whose 1996 attack in Turkey killed seven and wounded 33.

German authorities were also accused of failing to protect Turks from PKK sympathisers. Several had attacked Turkish citizens at Germany's Hannover airport, leading Turkey to accuse German police of failing to protect their own.

FETO and Germany 

The Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) is another thorn in the side of the two nations. 

Ankara has criticised Berlin for failing to support Turkey, having given asylum to FETO suspects who were alleged to have taken part in the coup attempt of July 2016 that killed more than 250 and wounded 2,200 people.

Turkey filed a dossier with several countries, including Germany, calling for the extradition of FETO members led by Fetullah Gulen, a self-exiled leader who has been living in the US since 1999.

Turkey sent a diplomatic note to Germany, demanding the extradition of fugitive Adil Oksuz, one of the coup's most-wanted suspects. More than 4,000 FETO suspects reportedly flew to Germany following the defeated coup attempt.

Germany criticised Turkey on human rights violations 

Ankara has been criticised for detaining human rights activists and undermining the rule of law by Berlin. Along with many other European countries, Germany has raised concerns about massive arrests and the dismissal of civil servants, including academics.

Turkey’s Deputy PM Bekir Bozdag said that 110,778 people had been sacked or suspended, while 3,604 of them have returned to their jobs. More than 37,000 have been arrested since the failed coup, due to their links with FETO.

The Turkish government says their action is essential to eradicate the terrorist  Gulen network and remove their influence over the state.

The other subject that concerns Berlin is that of the German citizens and journalists arrested in Turkey.

Deniz Yucel, a Die Welt reporter who holds Turkish and German passports, is doubtless one contentious subject in the meeting. The reporter was taken into custody in Istanbul on February 14, 2017 on allegations of spreading terrorism propaganda. 

The German government has asked for the release of Yucel. Recently, in a move to ease tensions, the Turkish courts released some German activists who were held in custody, including Peter Steudtner.

The 43-year-old reporter, Deniz Yucel, was taken into custody in Istanbul on February 14, 2017 on accusations of producing terrorist propaganda and incitement to hatred.
The 43-year-old reporter, Deniz Yucel, was taken into custody in Istanbul on February 14, 2017 on accusations of producing terrorist propaganda and incitement to hatred. (AFP)

Turkey says that no journalist has been detained or jailed merely for doing their job, but instead for their relationship with terrorist groups.

Prime Minister Yildirim expressed his hopes Wednesday ahead of key talks in Berlin that German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel would soon be freed.

Germany pulls its troops out of military base in Turkey

Some media outlets in Germany, citing high government officials, reported that Berlin is to halt exports of arms to Turkey unless Deniz Yucel is free.

And on that issue, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has said that arms sales to a NATO member and the release of Yucel are different matters.

Gabriel also stressed that halting or cancelling arms sales to a NATO ally is a legal matter in Germany.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu rejected the reports: “A commission was scheduled to meet to discuss [selling of] Leopard tanks [of Germany], but the meeting was postponed,” he said.

The NATO allies were at loggerheads after a crisis in March 2017 when Turkish ministers were barred from giving speeches in Germany.

In response, Ankara barred German lawmakers from entering Incirlik airbase in Adana, a military base crucial for the Alliance, causing a break in their defense co-operation.

The crisis came to a head when Germany moved its troops out of Turkey's airbase to another in Jordan.

EU membership and refugee deal

But matters didn't end there. The European Parliament voted for a symbolic and non-binding call to freeze Turkey's membership process to the EU.  

In September, before the elections in Germany, the rejection of Turkey's EU bid formed one of the key electoral issues for German politicians. 

Merkel said that she opposed Turkey’s membership: “The fact is clear that Turkey should not become an EU member.” 

Erdogan replied that Turkey was "seriously tired" of waiting for the EU to decide "if they wanted his country as a member," on a visit to French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, the other locomotive of the bloc, to work towards full membership. Turkey considers full membership of the bloc one of its strategic goals.

Turkey keeps the refugees in their soil under refugee deal.
Turkey keeps the refugees in their soil under refugee deal. (AA)

But it has not come at a cost. Turkey has helped to staunch the flow of refugees into the EU where the migrant crisis has become a serious political issue.

Under a deal reached in March 2016, Turkey and the EU agreed to swap Syrian refugees in exchange for six billion euros in financial aid to Turkey and visa-free access for Turkish citizens to the EU countries.

Germany played an important role in reaching the agreement.

But the visa-free travel for Turkish citizens was never applied, as Turkey hadn't met all EU conditions before signing the deal.

Recently Turkey announced that it submitted to EU authorities a draft document to solve the dispute over the conditions. "The launch of this [visa liberation] in 2018 will accelerate Turkey-EU relations," said Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin.

Economic relations

Germany is the number one trade partner of Turkey, in terms of bilateral trade volume.

According to data released by Turkish Foreign Ministry, the bilateral trade volume between Turkey and Germany amounted to $35.4 billion in 2016 -$14 billion is calculated as exports and $21.4 billion as imports, corresponding to an increase of 2 percent compared to 2015.

As of June 2017, there were 6,968 German companies active in Turkey. German investments in Turkey in the period of 2002-2017 as of September amounted to $9.07 billion dollars. 

But German authorities have said that Turkish-German businesses are bound to be affected by strained relations, after Die Zeit newspaper reported that Turkish authorities had handed Berlin a list of 68 German companies, including Daimler and BASF, which they accused of having links to FETO.

The Turkish government blasted that report and noted that German investments in Turkey were fully guaranteed by both Ankara and its laws.

Recently Turkey picked Germany’s Siemens as the winning bidder for a $1 billion wind power project as a sign that Ankara wants to keep business separate from the widening diplomatic row between the two NATO allies.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies