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Opinion

Opinion: Merkel in denial over Erdogan

Angela Merkel will hold fast to the refugee deal made with Turkey no matter what Ankara's requests may bring; she simply has no alternative, writes to Jens Thurau.

The reception was said to be friendly when Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan met Angela Merkel in Istanbul Monday. That's deceptive, though; he actually sent his adviser Yigit Bulut ahead first.

In interviews, Erdogan has been threatening outright to break his end of the refugee deal with the EU if, in future talks, the EU does not comply with his country's demands.

Feisty is one way you might put it; perhaps, irrational, as well. But for Merkel it's a reality that she has long had to accept. She needs Turkey and at the moment there is simply no other alternative than the refugee deal with Erdogan. And Erdogan knows this and is showcasing his newly found power with relish.

Thurau Jens

DW's Jens Thurau

Nearly every day, there is another new example of how he is doing this. The pursuit of legal action against German satirist Jan Böhmermann, among others; journalists are being incarcerated; removing the immunity of Kurdish members of parliament in order to throw them in prison. And now, the stage is set for Erdogan's next big adrenalin rush: at the beginning of June, the German parliament will be discussing a resolution regarding the genocide against the Armenian people at the hands of Ottoman Turks which is certain to gall Erdogan even more.

Erdogan, of course, is not just doing this to irritate Germany and other EU countries, but because Merkel has given him greater power and leverage as a result of her refugee policy. And someone like Erdogan won't hestitate to use it.

Symbolic moves for the German public

At the beginning of her visit to Istanbul on Sunday, Merkel met with representatives from civil society, a move to appease the public back home. But she didn't meet with any Kurdish representatives nor with prosecuted journalists. When she raised concerns about the worsening domestic policies in Turkey in newspaper interviews, she quickly followed up with statements about her commitment to fulfilling the agreements concerning refugee policies.

And now? All that has come out after a meeting with Erdogan is that it was not possible to resolve all open questions. Whether the achievement of visa-free travel within the EU for Turkish citizens will be possible by July 1, 2016 looks to be very doubtful, as should have already been clear.

Brutal interest politics

Much has already been written about Merkel being at the mercy of Turkey's egocentric president, but the chancellor isn't all that romantically hardwired herself. She isn't afraid of interest politics. The calculation she has made, however, is that the harm which would result should the deal with Erdogan go bust is greater than the harm already done to her from having lost her credibility by continuing to speak in a friendly manner with the man in power in Turkey.

That may sound cynical, but it is the only option left for the chancellor. Should her European refugee policy - or what remains of it - fall apart entirely, then Merkel's power at home would truly also be threatened. That is something she simply doesn't want to experience after ten years in office.

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