28 August 2016

Germany and Turkey's Quiet Alliance

Aug. 25, 2016

Though Berlin and Ankara's relationship is often contentious, they know they need each other.

Germany and Turkey are highly interdependent. Ankara relies on trade and funding from Germany while Berlin needs Turkey’s cooperation on the refugee crisis. Ongoing diplomatic spats and political clashes between Ankara and Berlin mask the depth of this mutual dependency. Both the German and Turkish leadership have strong incentives to put differences aside, make concessions and continue working together closely.


Over the past few months, it has become common to hear Turkish and German politicians publicly exchange harsh words and accusations. Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Berlin, German members of parliament have called for an investigation into alleged Turkish spying, and leaders from both sides have threatened to renege on previous agreements. And yet the German-Turkish relationship remains strong.

A Seemingly Troubled Relationship

On the surface, Germany and Turkey have diverging goals and a troubled relationship. The countries’ aims differ when it comes to the Turkish community in Germany, relations with the Kurds and ties with Armenia. The recent coup in Turkey and the ongoing fight against the Islamic State (IS) have heightened tensions around some of these issues.

Berlin and Ankara have clashed regarding the Turkish government’s relationship with Germany’s Turkish community. There are about 3 million people of Turkish descent living in Germany, and the Turkish government has worked hard to maintain influence in this community, most notably through the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB). DİTİB was founded by Turkish authorities in 1984 and today acts as an umbrella organization representing 900 mosques across Germany. DİTİB administers a program in which Turkish imams are sent to work in Germany for five-year rotations. For the German authorities, DİTİB’s work represents a Turkish government effort to politically influence communities in Germany.

These concerns are far from new, but the aftermath of the attempted coup in Turkey has heightened German worries that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is attempting to more aggressively become involved in the Turkish community’s matters in Germany. According to Der Spiegel, Turkey formally requested that Berlin approve 40 searches and three extraditions connected to supporters of Fethullah Gülen.

At the same time, however, a report in Germany’s Die Welt newspaper cited an unnamed security expert as saying that Turkish intelligence has hundreds of agents active in Germany and a network of 6,000 informants “menacing” the Turkish community. In a sign that the German government is becoming more alarmed at unsanctioned Turkish government activities inside Germany’s borders, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Aug. 23, “We expect people with Turkish origins living in Germany for a long time to develop loyalty towards our country to a high degree.”

German and Turkish interests have also diverged recently on issues regarding Armenia and the Kurds. In June, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Berlin after German members of parliament voted to recognize the Armenian genocide. The episode led to Turkish authorities denying permission for a German parliamentary delegation to visit German troops stationed at İncirlik air base. Moreover, the German government began supplying Kurdish forces with weapons in 2014 and in 2016 opened two military training centers near Erbil for the Kurdish peshmerga. For Germany, supporting the Kurds is an indirect way to contribute to the fight against IS. For Ankara, however, cooperation with Kurdish forces is anathema.

While notable in the short term, these recent tensions surrounding the Turkish community in Germany, Gülen, Armenia and the Kurds do not define the true nature of Germany’s relationship with Turkey. These are not the main considerations in Berlin and Ankara when it comes to the future of German-Turkish relations. Instead, several key economic, political and strategic factors drive their decision-making.

Turkey’s Economic Dependency on Germany

Berlin and Ankara’s frequent, highly publicized disagreements mask a very close economic relationship. Over the past decades, Germany and Turkey’s different economic structures and levels of development have led to…

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In the full version of this week’s important Deep Dive, you will learn…
The genesis of the economic ties between Germany and Turkey
How Germany helps support key components of Turkey's economy
Why Turkey’s role as a gatekeeper of Europe is a necessity to Germany
Germany’s primary goal, and why Turkey is instrumental in achieving it
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