At the end of September Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be traveling to Berlin for a state visit. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas' trip to Ankara aimed to lay the groundwork for this visit. The first stop was the Turkish parliament, where Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warmly greeted his colleague. Later in the day Maas met with Erdogan at a constructive and friendly meeting. The relaxed atmosphere certainly is a good start. But for this to last and to fully normalize relations, both sides have to make a serious effort.
Talking behind closed doors isn't President Erdogan's strong suit. Neither is it Cavusoglu's. Before heading to Ankara, Maas said that to normalize relations with Turkey the German citizens held in Turkish prisons have to be returned home. This was set as a short-term goal.
At the press conference Maas only mentioned this very briefly. It is clear that the conversation is going on, but it appears that Germany chooses to handle this delicate situation quietly. Cavusoglu, on the other hand, burst out unexpectedly and said there cannot be any pre-conditions for normalizing relations between the two countries. Cavusoglu also added that Turkey was talking to Germany about matters concerning the PKK and the Gulenist organization.
Considering the ongoing case of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a US citizen detained as a result of the 2016 attempted coup against Erdogan, one would think that the Turkish government understood by now that publicly escalating such delicate issues doesn't contribute to the solution.
Maas' trip is a step toward bringing Germany and Turkey closer again. However, Turkey's actions make this complicated. Even though Turkey is trying to revitalize its relationship with Europe, it is at the same time continuously violating human rights within the country.
So Germany needs to ask itself: How are we going to normalize relations with a country that insists it wants to get closer to Europe, but in practice is further distancing itself from democracy and western values every day? There is no easy answer to this question.
Without a doubt, Turkey's recently re-elected president needs Europe at the moment. Erdogan cannot afford to lose German investments in Turkey while the economy is going downhill. He needs all the support he can get.
Moreover, just next door, Syria is boiling and a new refugee wave could be at Turkey's doorstep sooner than later. Neither Germany nor Turkey want this to happen, and understandably so.
Germany is faced with a difficult mission. The goal is to find common ground to resolve bilateral issues, make sure Turkey's economy doesn't collapse (which is bad for everyone), find a way to manage the refugee crisis — and do all this without strengthening the hand of an autocrat. As it turns out, normalizing relations could end up being harder than managing the tension.