German Elections: Setting New Course for Turkey-EU Relations?

Written by | Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

German Chancellor Angela Merkel renewed her mandate for the third time in elections that took place last month. Although she  increased the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU)/Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) votes by 7.7 percent to 41.5 percent and received 311 seats out of 630 in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, she still slightly falls short of the absolute majority that is required to form a single party government.
Since her coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) could not get over the threshold to enter the parliament for the first time in its history, Merkel had to look for new coalition partners.  Two coalition scenarios stand out: either a grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is the second biggest party with 192 seats, or another coalition with the Greens, who hold 63 seats in the parliament. A coalition with the Left Party, which won 64 seats in parliament, is very unlikely given the irreconcilable differences between the CDU and the Left Party.
Regarding the German citizens of Turkish origin, there are two things that stand out in these elections. Firstly, an unprecedented high number of politicians of Turkish origin entered the parliament this time – 11 of them, in total. Five of them are from the SPD, while Cem Özdemir, the first politician of Turkish origin to be elected to parliament from the Greens in 1994, has been re-elected. There are two more names who entered parliament from the Greens and the Left Party, known for its sympathetic stance towards the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), will be represented by two female politicians of Turkish origin in the  parliament. A real phenomenon in this election was when, for the first time in its history, a Turkish Muslim woman, Cemile Giousouf, was elected to the parliament from the CDU. This marked increase of politicians of Turkish origin entering into the parliament was regarded by the Turkish Ambassador to Germany as ‘a good example of integration and a potential for substantial connection between Germany and their root country’.
Another outcome of this election was that while Turkish immigrants had traditionally voted for the Social Democrats in the past as the majority of them were blue-collar workers, as the new generations of Turkish immigrants are now coming from different socio-economic backgrounds and thus have different criteria in deciding which party to vote for, this was reflected in increasing number of  ‘Turkish’ votes for the CDU. Normally, many Turks in Germany had been alienated by a number of CDU policies – including a staunch rejection of Turkey joining the European Union, limits on immigration and denial of dual-citizenship for Turkish immigrants.
According to ?smail Ertu?, the only German member of the European Parliament of Turkish origin, Merkel’s growing power is not benefitial for Turkish-EU relations where he believes that Germany’s attitude will not change and that there will be no miracle even if Merkel forms a coalition with the Social Democrats or the Greens, who are usually more favourable towards a potential Turkish membership in the EU. It is a fact that Merkel symbolizes hostility to Turkey’s EU accession for many Turks and the Turkish government as she has been promoting a privileged partnership in the EU for Turkey since she assumed office in 2005 meaning specifically that she does not envision full membership for Turkey. Importantly, the outgoing German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who has been a close ally with the Erdo?an government, lost his seat in parliament, which might be regarded as another disadvantage in Turkey-Germany relations.
Merkel’s stance even tightened recently following the protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park this summer. Merkel criticized the police response against the protesters as being ‘much too harsh’ and called on the Turkish government to respect basic democratic liberties. ‘That is part of a developed society,’ she said, adding that she hoped opponents of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would ‘find their place in a Turkey that is moving into the 21st century’. She urged a peaceful dialogue between the two sides and questioned whether Turkey’s negotiations to become a member of the European Union one day should be affected by the authorities’ reaction to protests. In response to this outright criticism, Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis said that ‘If Ms. Merkel is looking for a topic to exploit domestically, then it should not be Turkey’.
The German reaction came soon after when German foreign ministry spokesman insisted that Ankara’s response to the demonstrations had no direct bearing on its bid to join the European Union but this was stated to be false afterwards by a source close to the ministry who said that in fact there was now greater scepticism on moving forward with accession talks with Turkey. Eventually, the whole event ended with Merkel’s opposition backed by Austria and the Netherlands to the opening of Chapter 22, the chapter on regional policy, in the negotiations between Turkey and the EU, which was normally scheduled for June but then posponed till after the publication of the progress report by the European Commission in November. In fact, this was suspected to be the official reason as there is enough to believe that the main idea was for Merkel to postpone the opening of the chapter till after the elections so that the Turkish accession would not really be a disadvantage for her during the election campaign.
While it still remains to be seen what the German position will be after the opening of Chapter 22 in the negotiations between Turkey and the EU, it is not very likely that Merkel’s position towards Turkey will change. If there is going to be any softness in her attitude, it may come from the German citizens of Turkish origin in the parliament who indeed represent an example of successful integration – along with the fact that Turkish immigrants are also having common concerns with the rest of the society and not only problems related to Turks, such as dual-citizenship and Turkey’s EU membership.

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