Blitz und Donner: German-Turkish Relations Under Pressure
March 16, 2017
By FTI Consulting
Why should a blog on the German elections cover a Turkish referendum? Simple: President Erdogan of Turkey has been exporting his campaign on the constitutional referendum to all European countries that have large minorities of Turks. The largest of such communities lives in Germany. Numbers vary between 2.9 and 3.5 million people, which accounts for roughly 4 per cent of the population in Germany. 1.4 million of them are eligible to vote in Turkey. That makes Germany one of the largest Turkish constituencies. These numbers, and the way in which Mr Erdogan runs his campaign in Germany are not only significant for Turkey, but for German politicians as well, as they have just begun their own race for office in the general elections in September this year.
The situation is delicate and awkward at once: Mr Erdogan seeks to whip up support among the Turkish community in Germany aggressively. Crowds of voters of Turkish descent, many of them also bearers of a German passport, rally behind the call of the homeland´s strongman, while Mr Erdogan calls everyone at home and abroad who does not share his views alternatively a Nazi or a terrorist supporter (and, in the case of Angela Merkel, both). Many Germans take this on board with a sense of rising unease.
Taking on European leaders is Mr Erdogan’s way of proving to his electorate that he is the strongman the Turks need. The harsher the insults, the stronger his appearance.
A forceful reaction is exactly what Merkel´s contender, Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats, supported by mass circulation tabloid Bild Zeitung, calls for. So far, she failed to deliver, letting it be known that she is not to be provoked. But does she have a choice? The chancellor has yet to find a balance between those Turkish Germans that are eligible to vote in Germany and the relations to her key ally in the refugee crisis. So far she has acted as a statesman would: keeping calm and expressing solidarity with the European partners.
But unfortunately for her, there is still another month to go until the Turkish referendum. Erdogan´s AKP is still vigorously fighting over every single vote, at home and abroad. And the intensity of actions and reactions is likely to rise while we are approaching Election Day. We will most certainly hear more from Mr Erdogan in the coming weeks, causing Merkel further headaches. He stays her worst case scenario: predictable but not controllable – especially during campaign season.
No doubt, Mr Erdogan´s doings may constitute a threat to Merkel’s re-election. Not least because Turkey’s refugee deal with the EU, brokered by Merkel, is a key element of her refugees policy. Containment of any glimmer will therefore be her first priority.
Hard to say where this will lead to. Even if Mrs Merkel cannot cash in her electorate bonus of being in power, Mr Schulz, is far from certain to benefit from Erdogan’s outrage, as Schulz himself advocated strongly for Turkey’s EU membership while president of the European Parliament. The polls for the xenophobic, populist AfD party had been on the decline recently. They are on the rise again.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
Mr. Lemke has been advising clients in public affairs and political communications for almost ten years. Born in Hong Kong, he grew up in the north of Germany, and spent his student years in Spain and Canada. Back in Germany, he started his career in political campaigning, supporting the government of Germany with its nation branding activities. Since he joined FTI Consulting in 2011, he focusses on political aspects of finance, technology and consumer protection.