Turkey's crackdown on protesters and Germany's plans for a revised dual citizenship scheme have put a strain on German-Turkish relations. But there is hope for finally turning this around, experts say.
No small task lies ahead for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they meet on Tuesday (04.02.2014) in Berlin. In the past couple of months, tensions between their two countries have mounted. As soon as the new German government settled on its coalition agreements at the end of last year, the Turkish government was displeased with the plan to change dual citizenship regulations for Germans of Turkish origin. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reportedly called the new regulations a "human rights violation."
These new regulations would change Germany's previous scheme that made German-born children of foreign parents choose at age 23 between the German nationality and the nationality of their parents. Now, individuals in that situation will be allowed to retain both nationalities.
Turkey, however, has criticized the fact that the new law excludes many migrants who came to Germany in the past. For them, obtaining a German passport meant having to renounce their foreign citizenship.
Citizenship isn't the only topic dividing the two countries. In summer of 2013, after the brutal crackdown on protesters in Gezi Park, Merkel issued statements critical of Turkey's response. Turkey's minister for EU affairs, Egemen Bagis, then dismissed her remarks as merely part of her election campaign strategy. That prompted Germany's Federal Foreign Office to summon the Turkish ambassador in Berlin. In turn, Ankara summoned the German ambassador. At the time, German politicians even contemplated stalling talks on Turkey's EU membership.
Seeking new momentum
The biggest problem in German-Turkish relations is Germany's criticism of Turkey's domestic affairs - particularly in light of long-standing debate on Turkey becoming an EU member, says Yasar Aydin an expert on the country with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
"Trust in Turkey's rule of law has been damaged," Aydin said, pointing to recent political developments there. In order to stop ongoing investigations, Aydin says that the Erdogan administration reshuffled several thousand officials, especially police officers and prosecutors. Aydin also believes that fallout persists from the response to protests at Gezi Park. "Two high-ranking German politicians of the Green Party came to visit the protesters, which the Turkish government viewed as meddling in its domestic affairs."
Just shortly before Erdogan's visit to Berlin, reports emerged that a court allowed a Turkish opposition politician's statements on a website to be censored. The Turkish parliament is also currently debating a new cyber law that's meant to allow authorities to block websites. News like this fuels skepticism among those who oppose Turkey becoming a member of the European Union.
Nonetheless, Aydin told DW that it's time for a fresh start for talks on EU membership. He says the two sides ought to stop blocking discussion on human rights and justice issues. "Without negotiations on that point, neither Brussels nor Berlin would have the possibility to constructively influence the democratic process in Turkey," he told DW.
Just ahead of the talks between Merkel and Erdogan, a hint of compromise emerged: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after he met with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, in Berlin that Germany would push for opening talks on those contentious issues at the EU level.
Regular, joint consultations?
Kenan Kolat, who heads advocacy group The Turkish Community in Germany, has urged the two countries to create a new platform to help overcome their differences - proposing an "institutionalized dialogue," he suggests it be modeled after government consultations between Germany and France.
"The German and Turkish government should hold sessions together on a regular basis," he said. This, he explains, would be an appropriate forum to voice criticism openly, but also to come up with joint strategies - for example, on how to deal with Syria. Turkey has pushed for a military solution, while Germany wants to make use of diplomatic tools instead.
The two governments frequently deal with important topics that affect them both, such as the trial against the right-wing terror group NSU currently underway in Germany. "Is that issue going to be swept under the rug again or dealt with in a thorough manner?" - that is, says Kolat, one of the most-discussed issues among members of his organization. Kolat hopes Erdogan will at least take it up with the German chancellor.