Turkish-German relationship that had been following a downward trajectory since July 2016 coup attempt, has now hit rock bottom.
Last month, President Erdogan called on the Turkish immigrant community in Germany not to vote for Turkey’s enemies at the country’s September 24 federal elections. He named them as the three main parties- the Christian Democratic Union, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the centre-left Social Democratic Party, led by Martin Schulz, and the Green Party co-chaired by Cem Ozdemir.
With more than a million German citizens with Turkish connections, it was inevitable the issue of Turkey would feature strongly during the election campaign.
Yet, very few had expected the Sunday’s televised debate between Merkel and Schulz to be dominated by Turkey.
The Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz was first to raise the stakes. He said that Turkey had “crossed all the red lines”. If he were to become the next chancellor, he would break off the EU accession talks with Turkey.
Seeking a fourth term as the chancellor, the experienced politician Angela Merkel was initially more measured. Cornered by Schulz, she also declared that Turkey should not become a member of the EU and she would soon raise the issue of ending the accession talks with her EU partners.
Turkey’s response was predictably angry. The presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has accused German leaders of fuelling discrimination and racism.
Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called it “cheap populism”.
Widely cited as a prime example of an authoritarian-populist regime itself, Turkey’s claim that Germany had bowed to populism and prejudice, has caused a stir.
True, there has been a surge in populism around the world in the past decade and since the 2008 economic crisis and the ongoing refugee movements, Europe, too, has seen a rise in populism.
In the UK, populist politicians campaigning for Britain’s exit from the European Union, had promised better healthcare, better trade and less immigration- including keeping the hordes of Turks away -and got what they wanted. Hoping to ride the populist wave, Prime Minister Theresa May called an early election but ended up losing her majority. Like all successful electoral tools, populism, too, got a heavy dose of reality.
French and Dutch elections, after equally populist campaigns, brought nothing but failure for the far-right movements.
In Germany, too, the populist movements have gained some momentum. The nationalist, anti-immigration party, Alternative for Germany, is expected to increase its support in federal elections.
President Erdogan’s verbal tirades against mainstream German politicians, calling them Nazi remnants and enemies of Turkey, may have played some role in boosting the marginal parties’ appeal.
Having 12 German citizens under arrest in Turkey on political charges and seemingly unable to respond to increasingly harsh language used by Turkey’s politicians, Mrs. Merkel has come under strong political and popular pressure to take a clear stand. Martin Schulz repeatedly criticised Mrs. Merkel for being soft on Ankara, saying it was unacceptable that “no German can safely travel to Turkey anymore”.
It would be naïve to assume this pressure will disappear immediately after the elections.
Earlier this year, a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation found that almost 30 percent of those German voters surveyed, held populist views. Yet, most Germans, owning up to populist views, expressed support in democracy as a political system and said that they believed the EU membership of Germany was a good thing.
Of course, there is no such thing as “positive populism”, but in countries in Europe with well-established democracies, with strong institutions, free media and independent judiciary, it is easier to resist the pressures of populism.
Shame we cannot say the same about Turkey.
This post is also available in: Turkish