Berlin says "no" to Turkish referendum

Orkhan Sattarov, the head of the European Office of Vestnik Kavkaza
Berlin says "no" to Turkish referendum

German-Turkish relations, which are suffering from a state of permanent crisis in recent years, are facing yet another challenge. This year's elections to the Bundestag are an important factor in the relations between Berlin and Ankara. According to opinion polls, Merkel's CDU and Martin Schulz's SPD have same chances of success. Another important factor is referendum in Turkey, initiated by the government of President Erdogan, which can significantly expand presidential powers and basically make Turkey a presidential republic.

Over the past several weeks, Germans actively discussed the visit of high-ranking representatives of Turkish ruling party to Germany, where they plan to speak to members of Turkish Diaspora (1,4 million German Turks have a right to vote at the upcoming referendum) so that they would support the presidential form of government. Considering the fact that there is a roughly equal number of supporters and opponents of constitutional amendments in Turkey, the outcome of fight for votes living in Germany can play a very important, if not decisive role.

The fact that functionaries of the Justice and Development Party conduct pre-election campaign in Germany has become a real headache for the German authorities, since they understand that it will be perceived by German society as if government can do nothing against Erdogan's actions. People demand to not allow Erdogan's supporters to address Turks living in Germany, media and prominent politicians have similar demands. Their main argument is that Turkish government violates human rights and arrests journalists (including German), so it shouldn't receive a platform for political propaganda in Germany. German authorities basically agreed with these demands: Gaggenau city administration canceled a scheduled event with the participation of Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag for "security reasons." Almost simultaneously, Cologne city administration canceled the event with Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci. There is little doubt that unconvincing excuses are politically motivated. In response, Turkey summoned German Ambassador in Ankara, while Prime Minister Cavusoglu threatened to take response measures. We will try to analyze the reasons that led to current situation and possible consequences.

Modern Germany is a country where a lot of people share liberal and democratic values. Based on the data of opinion polls and the results of last parliamentary elections, supporters of the CDU/CSU, Social Democrats, Free Democrats and "Green" party have about 80% of all votes. "Left" party and right-wing (AfD), as well as smaller political forces have the remaining 20%. Each party criticized Erdogan's government and Turkey in the past. 

The "Left" party, for example, traditionally supports the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and many Kurds living in Germany (according to various estimates, their number is about 500-800 thousand people), support this party and are one of the important parts of its electorate. The "Green" party's policy puts emphasis on human rights and liberal values - so they don't have anything in common with Erdogan's government. The Free Democratic Party (FPD), which promotes liberal values in the economy and public life, also questing Erdogan's actions due to ideological antagonism. 

Far-right AfD created its political capital on anti-immigrant sentiments in society and people's fear of losing their German identity, so it has similar priorities in Turkey's issue. First of all, they aren't interested in German-Turkish cooperation on the issue of migrants, since the flow of refugees has significantly decreased after migration deal with Ankara came into force, so it became more difficult for right-wing populists to use traditional anti-immigrant card. In other words, it's possible that this political force is interested in allowing Turkey to let refugees from the Middle East to Europe, so that traditional party establishment would be put in a difficult position once again. Second of all, the very fact of election campaign of Islamist government of Muslim country in Germany is like a nightmare for right-wing populists. 

Angela Merkel's party - the CDU - is probably interest in a deal with Erdogan more than any party, since uncontrolled influx of refugees to Germany is Merkel's biggest weakness. However, as the ruling party, the CDU can't ignore other commitments. Firstly, human rights situation in Turkey puts the government in a difficult position, especially when Angela Merkel is called ideological leader of the liberal world after Donald Trump became US president. The topic of arrest of Die Welt correspondent, German and Turkish citizen Deniz Yucel, is still on the front pages of leading German media. Although German Foreign Ministry chooses what it says very carefully, criticism of Turkey among party functionaries is not a secret to anyone. After all, even during the best times of German-Turkish relations, the CDU has always opposed Turkey's accession to the EU. The second aspect is urgent problem of German Turks' integration. For many generations, most of them associate themselves with Turkish state and still have Turkish citizenship. Election tours of Turkish politicians in Germany clearly show it. Debates on integration are extremely important in the political life of Germany and will play huge a role in the upcoming elections, and that's why the CDU wants to show stronger position in relations with Turkey. 

Social democrats, represented in the ruling coalition, are almost in the same situation. Despite the fact that many German Turks cast their votes for the SPD, which party can't ignore, in the issue of foreign policy and in its relations with Erdogan's government in particular, social democrats have their own agenda. 

The main question is how will Ankara respond to de facto ban of AKP politicians' activities in Germany, aimed at supporting constitutional amendments in Turkey. Will Turks open their borders in revenge, letting refugees into Europe? We believe that despite harsh rhetoric, Turkish government is not ready to withdraw from migrants deal, since the country also receives significant funds from the EU as part of this agreement. Moreover, last week, difficult economic situation in Turkey forced Ankara to seek Berlin's help. The information that the Turkish side initiated talks with the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble leaked more than a week ago by Der Spiegel and was later confirmed by speaker of the Federal Government Steffen Seibert. It's likely that Berlin will provide the help it needs to Ankara.

Speaking about possible consequences of more cancellations of meeting between Turkish politicians and Turkish citizens in Germany, there's another point that should be considered. Most German Turks who voted in Turkish parliamentary elections in 2015, voted for Erdogan's party (60%). He still has wide support among fellow citizens in Germany, and restrictive measures of the German government against Turkish politicians may even help Ankara. After all, Germany's actions may be perceived by many German Turks (especially patriots) as discrimination and, perhaps, will have the opposite effect to what was desired.