Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey comes at a critical time. The leaders focused on addressing some problems in a very raw atmosphere, and there was little love lost, writes DW’s Seda Serdar.
None of Chancellor Angela Merkel's visits has been easy in the past decade (above with President Erdogan). This one, however, is especially significant for Turkey, since the country is preparing for a referendum that could change the country's democractic tradition radically. Turkey, of course, has always had its share of democratic deficits, but measures taken by the government following the failed coup this past summer have elevated these deficits to a level previously unknown for its citizens and allies.
In the press conferences with President Erdogan and Prime Minister Yildirim, held separately, Chancellor Merkel slightly touched upon freedom of the press and separation of powers. She also spoke of the importance of having a political opposition in democracies. Looking at the big picture, and considering proposed constitutional changes, thousands arrested or dismissed from their jobs, opposition voices drowned, these statements certainly did not reflect the severity of the situation on the ground.
Keeping channels open
It is a tricky situation for Merkel, especially since it is election year in Germany. On the one hand, as a representative of European values she needs to stand up to Erdogan. On the other hand, she cannot be too explicit, which could lead to the collapse of the EU-Turkey refugee deal. This issue is a vulnerable spot for the Chancellor, so keeping those communication channels open isn't an easy task.
The refugee deal isn't the only delicate topic. The DITIB scandal, in which someimams working for the organization are accused of having spied for the Turkish government is another controversial issue. Even though Merkel demanded clarification, both Turkish leaders avoided comment on the topic publicly. This will continue to cause tensions between the two countries.
Talking past each other
Despite the friendly statements about the two countries' historical and financial connections, and the importance of combating terrorism together, it seems that this day in Ankara was mostly about emphasizing problems and discomfort. There were almost no constructive remarks which shed light to the next steps. The only clear message that came out was to keep the refugee deal on track and that Turkey wasn't currently blackmailing Europe.
It is definitely crucial to cultivate bilateral relations and to find solutions on controversial issues. It is also vital to address the perishing democracy louder so the ones struggling for these values don't feel stranded. This is as important as the refugee deal and fighting "Islamic State," if not more.
Once again, bad timing
Even though many criticized the timing of this visit, Merkel doesn't see a problem in meeting with Turkish leaders ahead of the upcoming and extremely critical referendum. It is true that this time around Merkel also met with the opposition parties CHP and HDP, which she failed to do so during her visit in October 2015 ahead of general elections. Nevertheless, this will not stop Erdogan's ruling AKP from taking advantage of this visit and using it as an asset for its referendum campaign.