Normative approach to realistic principles in German foreign policy

prof. Dr. Osman Can Unver wrote about Germany’s anti-Turkey attitude in foreign policy for AA Analysis.


Visiting Turkey in the past days, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had made negative statements about Turkey’s rights in the Aegean in Greece, where she went before Turkey. This time, Baerbock expressed views that would mean intervention in Turkey’s internal affairs at the joint press conference he held with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

The coalition partner Birlik 90/Green Party, to which the German minister is a member, has long been known for their critical approach to Turkey. Particularly in recent years, the criticisms of former party chairman and current federal agriculture minister, Cem Özdemir, who seem to have moved away from his ecological-left-oriented views in its establishment and have acquired an “Atlantic-oriented” identity, are guiding the party’s Turkey policy. It can be clearly seen that these discourses are more effective than expected in the bilateral relations between Turkey and Germany, which are in close economic relations with each other, which have not been able to get rid of the tensions in recent years. Despite the increasing influence of Turkish citizens living in Germany, whose number exceeds 3 million today, in the social, economic, cultural and political life of this country, and their loyalty to Turkey in this respect, the German political establishment is ostensibly against Turkey for “ethical-normative reasons”. He’s not afraid to take an attitude.

The fact that Annalena Baerbock, during her visit to Turkey, went beyond diplomatic practices and expressed some of her thoughts that could interfere with our domestic affairs and made openly pro-Greek statements regarding the problems between Turkey and Greece, sets an example that is undoubtedly self-righteous, contrary to the requirements of real policy and conforming to normative foreign policy.

At first glance, it can be thought that this attitude of Germany stems from the antipathy towards the President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the current political system in our country. As a matter of fact, since 2016, news and comments in the German media, mostly violent and offensive rather than criticism, have not been lacking against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. An important factor in this is that the terrorist organizations tolerated by Germany can easily spread anti-Turkey discourses in the influential positions they occupy at certain corners. On the other hand, it is considered normal for Turks who adopt a pro-Turkey stance in Germany to be disadvantaged in their professional and social life. “Ethical values” are also put forward as the justification for the German stance. However, the same “ethical/normative stance” is not shown, for example, in the harsh and deadly interventions of Greek security forces against irregular migrants in the Aegean Sea, with the support of Frontex, the European Union Border Protection Agency. Germany and other Western countries always interpret Greece’s point of view as Greece’s arming the Aegean islands in violation of the Lausanne Treaty, making unfair demands in the Eastern Mediterranean, and constantly accusing Turkey of violating its airspace.

Again, while heavy criticisms are directed at Turkey regarding human rights, the political establishment and the media in Western countries, which generally prefer to remain silent about known violations in their own territory, often try to draw the public’s attention outside the country and continue to claim that they “respect ethical principles”. In the reflections of this approach in foreign policy, a national interest-oriented interpretation is made by using values ​​as an excuse with the emphasis on “human rights and democracy”. In short, normative foreign policy is easily subject to different opinions when it comes to national interest and turns into an instrument of national interest.

The roots of Germany’s attitude towards Turkey

When we examine the behind-the-scenes of Germany’s attitude towards Turkey, it may be possible to understand the normative approach that can dethrone real politics so much. Turkey’s Germany and Emperor II. The most important feature of the ups and downs since the Wilhelm period (1888-1918) is that the two states, which have no common border, got closer to each other with the pragmatic requirements imposed by history, but this rapprochement was not on the basis of equality.

Political orientalism, which flourished in Europe in the 19th century, systematized the prejudices and judgments about the Turkish and Islamic world, and the Turkish perception in Germany was formed with a subordinate and hegemonic view. The Union and Progress administration gave consent for Germany to move Turkey to a “semi-colonial” position, and as a result of the collapse of the two empires with the loss of the First World War, Turkish-German relations remained in the memories of those who lived in that period. While these memories caused a deep-rooted “Germany sympathy” among certain segments in Turkey, there has not been a serious change in the perception of the settled Turks and Turkey in Germany. In other words, the Turkish policies determined by the “19th century orientalism” continued to exist in Germany. Only the former German soldiers, who had personally experienced the “friendship in arms” taken very seriously in Turkey, returned to their homeland with partially positive feelings about the Turks and Turkey.

It is a fact that Germany’s sympathy for Germany in Turkey is very evident in the relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Turkey, which was established in 1949. The “Labor Agreement” signed between the two countries in 1961 has been a pragmatic solution for Turkey in economic crisis and Germany in need of labor force. However, a new process has started between the two countries with the Turkish workers who went to Germany from Turkey. The most important feature of this process is that close relations between societies took place in this dimension for the first time.

The labor migration, which started in 1961 under the supervision of the official authorities of the two countries and was predicted to be of limited duration, did not develop as expected, and a Turkish group, whose number has increased steadily over the years, has emerged in Germany. Today, it is mentioned that there are more than 3 million Turks, including those who have acquired German citizenship. This development is the most important factor determining the relations between Turkey and Germany. While this factor was constantly weighing on the background of Germany’s policies towards Turkey, the failure of assimilation, especially desired by Germany, resulted in, among other reasons, the inability to prevent the continuation of the Turkish group’s relations with Turkey by consolidating. Although there are some among the Turks who have come to important positions in different parts of the society, the Turkish society keeps its ties with Turkey alive thanks to the opportunities of the age of globalization and largely refuses to be assimilated. This situation creates a certain degree of “nervousness”, especially in mainstream German politics. It is observed that it is not yet fully understood that the current assimilation policies will not bring results, especially in a period of increasing hostility towards Turks and Islam, populism and racist violence.

Germany’s negative stance on Turkey’s full membership to the European Union became more evident, especially after Angela Merkel became the prime minister in 2005. In fact, since 1987, when the application for full membership was made, the perception that “Europe would be attacked by Turkish workers” had an impact on Germany’s policies if Turks were given the right of free movement. It is clear that this policy is fed by the negative approach towards the Turks in Germany.

“Anti-Turkey” in foreign policy

The reflection of the above-mentioned “irritability” in foreign policy is in the form of being anti-Turkey. However, this opposition is veiled by “ethical and democratic” values ​​under the influence of the aforementioned capitalist paradigm. As a matter of fact, the fact that Annalena Baerbock, during her visit to Turkey, went beyond diplomatic practices and expressed some of her thoughts that could interfere with our domestic affairs and made openly pro-Greek expressions regarding the problems between Turkey and Greece, is an example that is undoubtedly biased, contrary to the requirements of real policy and conforming to normative foreign policy. .

Baerbock’s attitude was applauded in the German media, which put ideological reason ahead of facts and citing ethical and democratic principles as justification, although it was found strange by sensible observers in Germany. In fact, the sustainability of this political line, which also harms bilateral relations and Germany’s interests, is doubtful. The fact that the coalition government at work in Germany is relying on an unrealistic normatism, even if it is to cover up its internal problems, is not in accordance with the construction and functioning of German diplomacy. Moreover, as stated above, such a foreign policy approach cannot be applied homogeneously.

This attitude towards Turkey is quickly forgotten when it comes to the Greek practices in the Aegean against irregular migrants, which constitute a very serious violation of human rights, the racist behavior against the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, and the military build-up in violation of the principle of disarming the Aegean islands according to international law. For this reason, the attitude of Annalena Baerbock during her last visit, which can be described as an ideological inconsistency, is far from convincing and will only serve to create a new problem in Turkey-Germany relations, which have been damaged by recent tensions.

[Prof. Dr. Osman Can Ünver, İstinye Üniversitesi Öğretim Üyesidir]

*Ideas in the articles belong to the author and may not reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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