Germany is suddenly making nice with Turkey. Why?

There’s a strange shift going on in European relations with Turkey, specifically where it applies to Germany. It was barely a year ago when relations between the Germans and the Turks were so bad that Angela Merkel was talking about pulling all of their forces from Incerlik air base. They were booting out each other’s diplomats and Turkey was demanding that Germany extradite dissidents in their country who they claimed were involved with the 2016 coup attempt. (The Germans refused.)

This month, however, the relationship between the two nations is barely recognizable from the climate we were observing last summer. Germany is dropping some previous sanctions on Turkey, lifting caps on assured exports to that nation and even relaxing travel advisories for German tourists interested in visiting. It seems as if their past disagreements have been largely forgotten or forgiven. (The Local, Germany)

A €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) limit on export guarantees to Turkey would not be renewed this year, Germany’s economy ministry told AFP, confirming an earlier report by the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The measure was imposed in July 2017 as a way to pressure Ankara after the detention of a German human right campaigner and five other activists, including the head of Amnesty International in Turkey.

Opposition parties in Germany have accused the €1.5 billion limit of being too timid, given that the value of export guarantees increased from €1.1 billion in 2016 to €1.46 billion the following year.

Germany’s foreign ministry also removed a warning on its website about its nationals facing a high risk of arrest when visiting Turkey.

On a possibly related note, Turkey also reestablished diplomatic ties with the Netherlands last week. They had cut ties earlier this year over an incident where some Turkish ministers were ejected from a political rally.

So what’s going on? Turkey ended their official “state of emergency” last week. It had been in place since the failed coup in the summer of 2016. That may be providing a fig leaf for other countries to ease up on complaints about humanitarian concerns. But that doesn’t mean that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is suddenly reverting to some sort of open, enlightened leader. It was only last week that Turkey put American Pastor Andrew Brunson back in prison after rejecting an appeal to cancel the politically motivated charges against him.

The military cooperation front isn’t going much better either, particularly when it comes to our European allies. Despite fears in the EU over President Trump getting too cozy with Vladimir Putin, Turkey is already buying the Russian S-400 missile system, despite the fact that it places British fighter jets (among others) at risk when operating in the same region. The list of other European nations with valid grievances against Turkey is too long to fully explore here.

The real question seems to be who is driving this German rapprochement with the Turks. At the moment, Germany is a country being pulled in two directions. Angela Merkel and the more mainstream political leadership are facing an internal rebellion from opposition party forces unhappy with her immigration policies (among other things). Rumors have been swirling for weeks about a possible vote of no confidence which could remove her from office. Is this new stance with Turkey coming from the opposition or from Merkel herself as a move to appease her critics? Turkey plays a large role in the control of the flood of migrants arriving in Europe, many of whom try to reach Germany.

It’s one more wrinkle in an already complicated puzzle. But if the Europeans are still more interested in being allies of the United States than Russia or Turkey, this is certainly a curious way to demonstrate it.

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