Come to Us, Friends!

ANKARA/BERLIN | | tuerkei

ANKARA/BERLIN (Own report) - In view of the German chancellor's talks in Ankara today, German foreign policy experts are pleading for new openings toward Turkey. The country is growing stronger and has acquired foreign policy potentials that could soon allow it to pursue an independent Middle East policy, even at the expense of German and European interests, warns Ruprecht Polenz (CDU), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German Bundestag. Berlin and Brussels should prevent this and therefore reconsider their opposition to Turkey joining the EU. German and the EU's influence on Turkey has already subsided. The foreign policy shift, initiated by Erdogan's AKP government, has upgraded Ankara's standing in the Arab world, affecting also Turkey's economy. The EU's significance, as Turkey's trading partner, has considerably diminished over the past few years. To make use of Turkish potential, it is therefore important to continue to cooperate with an expanding Ankara, according to Berlin. The objective is not only to enhance the own position, but also to consolidate Ankara's bonds to the western world, which, in the long run, no longer appear to be assured.

On their Knees

A few days ago, German EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger (CDU) used harsh language in regards to Turkey's growing independence and the diminishing influence Berlin and Brussels have on the country. "I'll bet that in the coming decade a German chancellor and his or her French counterpart will crawl to Ankara on their knees to beg the Turks to 'come to us, friends'," as Oettinger was quoted in the boulevard press.[1] Comments by other German foreign policy experts were less barbed, but quite similar in substance. Ruprecht Polenz (CDU), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German Bundestag, for example, warned: "If Turkey would act against European interests in the region, our problems would increase significantly." According to Polenz, such a perspective has become quite realistic.[2]

Strategic Depth

The foreign policy shift initiated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP) party, soon after coming into power in 2002, has made Turkey more independent. This shift is based on the "Strategic Depth" doctrine once formulated by current Foreign Minster Ahmet Davutoğlu. He proposed that Turkey should no longer exclusively orient itself on the West, as the military and the Kemalist establishment have done until now, but should strengthen its position in all directions. It should reinforce its relations with the Islamic world, particularly with its neighbors, which were once part of the Ottoman Empire. This doctrine has been adopted by the new economic forces, which, since the 1990s, have become increasingly prosperous in the conservative Islamic region Anatolia - the boom industries that soon gained power in Ankara and adopted the Islamist AKP, as their political representative. Closely cooperating with Germany and the EU at first, to guard against the Kemalist establishment, the "Anatolian Tigers" and the AKP have successfully enhanced Turkey's position and that of Turkish businesses in the Middle East. According to recent surveys, Ankara is perceived as the region's leading political power and in the foreseeable future, most likely, as its leading economic power as well.[3]

Joint Development Policy

Berlin seeks to use Turkey's currently stronger position for its own Middle East policy - particularly in the Syrian civil war. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[4]) Some German foreign policy specialists are now calling for Ankara to be a cooperation partner in Africa as well. Turkey is no longer merely projecting its economic and political expansion toward the North African Arab countries bordering the Mediterranean, but toward the entire continent. On the basis of its dynamically booming exports, the Turkish - African trade volume quintupled between 2002 and 2011. This year, it is expected to grow further to a total of US $32 billion, a volume approaching the level of German-Turkish trade. Whereas in 2005, Turkey had maintained only four embassies south of the Sahara, there were already 15 by early 2012. A Turkish-African Business Forum flanked the 2008 Turkey-Africa Summit in Istanbul, where a "strategic partnership" between Ankara and the African Union (AU) was initiated.[5] Very similar to its expansion into the Middle East, in its expansion into Africa, Ankara and the Anatolian export industry are also relying on Islamist structures, such as the movement around the Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen. Hans-Gert Pöttering, Chair of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, is now making a plea for cooperating with Ankara, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the African continent as well. Turkey has crystallized into an "important partner" for a joint development policy, "particularly in Africa," declared Pöttering shortly before the German Chancellor's current visit to the Turkish capital.[6]

New Options

Recent German cooperation efforts are not only motivated by attempts to use Turkish potential for its own objectives, but also by concern that Ankara's foreign policy could go its own way - at the expense of German-European interests. Only a few weeks ago, the Turkish prime minister aroused international attention, when he proclaimed that Turkey could possibly join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to which it maintains firm institutional relations as a "dialogue partner" country, since June 2012. The SCO is an alliance sponsored by China, Russia and several Central Asian countries, active in questions of security policy and considered by some to be a possible future alternative to NATO. Experts find it improbable that Turkey would turn its back on the West. However plans to considerably enhance its cooperation with Russia in the fields of economics and energy policy, show that Ankara is ambitiously seeking new options. There is talk of a Turkish-Russian trade volume reaching US $100 billion by 2015.

An Open Process

In its efforts to exercise influence, Berlin could always rely on the fact that Germany was Turkey's largest investor and most important trade partner until now. This position is being challenged. Whereas Turkish exports to the Euro Zone were still 56 percent in 2007, they had dropped to only 40 percent by 2012, as exports to North Africa and the Middle East increased from 18 - 34 percent, during the same period. Chancellor Merkel now seeks to give new impetus to bilateral economic relations - pleading for pressing ahead with the negotiations on Ankara's EU membership. Up to now, Berlin had taken if for granted that Brussels would negotiate, to have Ankara make extensive concessions in aligning its standards with those of the EU, while an actual EU membership was out of the question. This was not only due to the costs, but to the fact that this would place Turkey, a densely populated country, in a comparable position to that of Germany, to wield formal political weight within the EU.[7] Ruprecht Polenz predicts that the EU would no longer be able to hold off Ankara with a "privileged partnership," but, in light of Turkey's growing self-reliance, must seriously begin to consider its entry into the EU. According to Polenz, it is a "really open process" [8] - not because of German indulgence, but because of Turkey's growing strength and new self-reliance.

[1] Oettinger kritisiert EU-Kurs zur Türkei; www.bild.de 20.02.2013
[2] Polenz will die Türkei an die EU binden; www.fr-online.de 23.02.2013
[3] Mensur Akgün, Sabiha Senyücel Gündoğar: The Perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2012, TESEV Publications, Istanbul 2012. On the "Strategic Depth" doctrine and the new Anatolian industry see also Die neuen Partner in Ankara (I), The New Partners in Ankara (II) and Die größte Botschaft
[4] see also Verdeckte Kriegspartei and Air Defense for the Exile Leadership
[5] Gero Erdmann, Olga Herzog: Die Türkei in Afrika: Im Schatten des Neo-Osmanismus? GIGA Focus Afrika 1/2012
[6] "Die Türkei erlebt eine außergewöhnliche Phase der politischen Stabilität"; dtj-online.de 22.02.2013
[7] see also Anatolian Values
[8] Polenz will die Türkei an die EU binden; www.fr-online.de 23.02.2013