German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister AhmetDavutoğlu three times in a short period.
Turkey has been receiving Berlin’s love in doses that it would never expect to have had. Yet the reason for this “heightened” interest is no secret: the refugee crisis. If Aleppo is seized by Iran and Hezbollah forces with Russian air support, it is a known fact that hundreds of thousands of refugees will flock to the Turkish borders. Turkey cannot keep its borders closed to these people in winter. The number of Syrians who flee to Turkey will soon exceed 3 million. Germany is currently faced with a similar situation. It has received around 1 million refugees over the last 12 months. This year will be no different, it is said.
The crisis in Syria is getting more complicated. The Geneva talks came to a deadlock even before they started, which does not bode well. Russia and Iran are using all their resources to shell cities and villages in order to save the Assad regime. The barrel bombs dropped on Aleppo have devastated this majestic city. Even if Iran and Russia are successful in their efforts, their success will be restricted to saving a ruined regime. And this regime has been knee-deep in bloodshed. This is a disaster scenario for Syria and millions of refugees who have fled this country so far. From a strategic vantage point, Iran and Russia may not see the continuation of the crisis a problem. But this is certainly a huge problem for Turkey, Lebanon and Germany, which are faced with millions of refugees. This is the very reason for Mrs. Merkel’s interest in Turkey. It can be argued that the refugee issue has turned into a matter of life or death from a political perspective.
Even the sanest groups in Germany believe that the “open door” policy is not possible and the refugee numbers and policy should be manageable. Following the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) attacks in Paris and İstanbul, the security dimension of the matter has come to the agenda. Polls indicate that the rate of those who believe that the government cannot handle the refugee policy well is above 80 percent. Although she is a very successful politician in many regards, Mrs. Merkel’s popularity now stands at 48 percent. This is a 10 percent decline in just four weeks. More remarkably, the racist and anti-Islam party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has secured 10 percent of the vote and is ever increasing its electoral popularity. Yet election success from a far-right and racist party is not problem specific to Germany. The situation in France, the Netherlands and Denmark is graver. But Germany is a country that has had traumatic experiences in its past on this subject. The AfD’s election success will be seen as Merkel’s defeat. She is trying to make progress in two directions in order to deal with this problem.
She has learned by now that the search for solidarity within the European Union has reached a dead end. Twenty out of 28 EU member countries don’t want any refugees and also are against a common EU policy regarding refugees. It is impossible for Merkel to make any progress on this path. We can even say that this has evolved into an EU crisis, dealing a serious blow to the Schengen system. Thus, Merkel has to deal not only with refugees but also an EU crisis.
It is therefore no coincidence that she pays frequent visits to Turkey, describing it as a “key country.” Ankara may really save Merkel. There is not much Ankara has to do. If it can show that the issue is “manageable,” it would be enough. The far-right is using uncertainty to pump up people’s fears. In Germany, no one expects the refugee inflow to stop completely. Actually, the German economy needs immigrants. The country’s employment agency calculates that 350,000 refugees can be integrated in the country’s economy on an annual basis. Even to prevent the human traffickers from paving the way for human tragedies in the Aegean sea would be enough to curtail this problem. Ankara’s “open door” policy is correct and Ankara is right to expect solidarity from Europe. Merkel does not come empty-handed. She has not only collected huge funds amounting to 3 billion euros, but also is ready to accept refugees. The Davutoğlu-Merkel connection may turn a new page in the relations.
If Merkel wants to make progress, she has to be sensitive on two matters. The first one is to ensure reliability in EU-Turkish relations. This is the credibility issue. If this can be done, she can voice her criticisms about the freedom of the press and human rights, and those criticisms will be more influential. This will be a win-win situation for her and for Turkey.
We must note that if the far-right movements like the AfD grow stronger in Europe, this will threaten not only Turkey’s EU bid but also the Turkish economy’s performance regardless of this bid. Can you see the path that imposes a common fate on us?