Erdoğan is pushing Germany to its limits

Ayşegül Karakülhancı writes from Cologne: Germany is doing its best to protect Turkey. However, as the pressure grows within the EU its strength is fading. If Turkey plays its last card as it did in March and halts its cooperation with the EU with regards to the refugees, Merkel will irrevocably lose her bargaining power.

Ayşegül Karakülhancı

Greece’s Alternate Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy, George Koumoutsakos, stated that Greece had reinforced its military units at the Turkish border as a result of the dispute between the two countries over the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEC) in the Eastern Mediterranean. Koumoutsakos added that in the coming days, Turkey could use refugees again as a tool to blackmail the EU and prevent sanctions on their part.  “We are quite prepared for this and will respond in the same manner as we did in March. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency are currently operating in the Maritsa River, which marks the border between Turkey and Greece.” İhlas News Agency has also reported that the Turkish Armed Forces has deployed 40 tanks from the Syrian border in the southeast of the country to the northwest border province of Edirne.  

On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared: “They will understand that Turkey has the political, economic and military strength to rip up and throw away any ill-conceived maps and documents imposed upon them. They will either get to understand the language of politics and democracy or they will understand it through the bitter experiences they will experience on the field,” repeating his threatening tone against Athens and consequently, against the European Union.  

On Sunday, the annual military maneuvers named “Martyr Captain Cengiz Topel Mediterranean Strom Exercise” began with the participation of Turkey and that of the Turkish Cyprus. 

Meanwhile, the EU is still attempting to use diplomatic means to solve the issue, whilst simultaneously preparing for a summit to be held on the 24th and 25th September. The issue of whether or not sanctions will be imposed upon Turkey will be discussed during the summit as well as which sanctions would be enacted. Beyond this meeting, key opponents of Turkey within the EU will meet separately on the Mediterranean island of Corsica this Thursday along with the EU's Mediterranean countries.

Brussels losing its influence 

Because of the deteriorating state of the Turkish economy, President Erdoğan’s strong rule is now under pressure. In the second quarter of this year, Turkey’s economy contracted by 9.9 percent and the East Mediterranean issue proves expedient in regaining lost domestic support and stirring up nationalism. Yet it may be shortsighted. Turkey cannot afford to halt its commercial activities with the EU. And given the close commercial ties between Germany and Turkey, the EU will also have to thoroughly evaluate possible sanctions to be enacted against Ankara. 

Despite this, the shift in Ankara’s stance towards the EU compared to a few years back is striking. The Turkey that clung on to its EU accession objective is no longer. Brussels - which was once able to pressure Turkey with regards to the rule of law and democracy - has lost much of its clout over Ankara. 

The Turkey of today does not hesitate to provoke Europe in its foreign policy and openly challenges EU countries including France, Austria and Greece. It also causes mayhem within NATO as well as within the EU. 

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that French President Macron was “hysterical” because of Turkey’s military intervention in Libya. He also said that Austrian Prime Minister Kurz had a “sickly mindset” because the latter accused Erdoğan of using the Turks in Europe to his own ends. French President Emmanuel Macron, whom Çavuşoğlu called “hysterical,” happens to be Turkey’s most powerful opponent in the EU.

Merkel, the only mediator 

The only party that is still able to mediate between the two countries is Angela Merkel as she is the only head of government in the EU who maintains good relations with both Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. One of Germany’s first mediation attempts did not succeed as Greece had already signed a maritime deal with Egypt. Up to now, Germany has also opposed the imposition of sanctions against Turkey. Macron, on the other hand, has declared that from now on, Germany and the other EU countries had adopted the French stance. “By now, all countries can see that there is a problem.” The fact that Turkey is not taking a step back from its provocative attitude makes it challenging for Germany to maintain its stance – the country that now holds the presidency of the EU. 

Brussels is planning to impose sanctions on the ships and companies that have taken part in Turkey’s controversial gas drills. As a next step, it is considering enacting sanctions against all sectors of the Turkish economy. Yet despite that, the EU is considering increasing the sums of money it grants Turkey to deal with the refugee crisis and persuade it to take a step back.  

Ankara, on the other hand, does not believe that the EU will enact sanctions against it. That is why it carries on with its threatening rhetoric and moves. Turkey has caused a serious crisis within the EU. 

Until an international court solves the issue permanently, Germany attempts to persuade Turkey and Greece to use the disputed waters collectively. In fact, Ankara is behaving somewhat harshly and provocatively as to force Greece to accept the collective use of the resources. Though Germany is doing its best to protect Turkey, as the pressure grows within the EU, its strength is fading. 

If Turkey plays its last card as it did in March and halts its cooperation with the EU with regards to the refugees, Merkel will irrevocably lose her bargaining power and will be unable to curb Macron and Turkey’s other opponents within the EU. Unless Turkey decides to adopt a sensible stance in September, it is bound to lose the support of its most significant ally in the EU.