Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan came in Berlin on Friday for discussions with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, aiming to find common ground on trade, migration, and defense despite their opposing views on Israel and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Erdogan’s first visit since 2020 coincides with municipal elections in which he aims to reclaim Ankara and Istanbul. Scholz’ support for improved access to the European Union market and visa liberalization would be a significant gift to voters who have been battered by rising inflation and an economic crisis.
A spokesperson for Scholz declined to speculate on how Germany would proceed with Erdogan’s request to buy 40 Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes – a move that would need Scholz’s support since Germany is part of the consortium that builds them.
For Scholz, who heads a fractious three-way coalition that is dealing with a court ruling that blew a 60-billion-euro hole in his budget and a row over the economy and rising immigration, Ankara’s role in stemming migration to the EU makes it an indispensable partner.
A German government spokesperson said ahead of the meeting that Sweden’s accession to the NATO alliance would likely come up in talks. Though Erdogan has dropped his objections, the Turkish parliament has yet to ratify Sweden’s membership.
In a sign of the visit’s importance, Scholz took pains not to respond directly to Erdogan’s loud condemnation of Israel, which he branded a “terror state”. The war against Hamas has killed many thousands of Palestinians.
Scholz’s response was decidedly mild given the fierce condemnation that far more muted criticisms of Israel typically draw in Germany, which strongly backs Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas militants, who killed 1,200 people in their Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.
Police locked down large parts of central Berlin before Erdogan landed and banned all protests in the area.
A hand grenade, likely left over from the last battles of World War Two, was found and destroyed near the office of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom Erdogan also visited.
The EU’s 2016 deal in which it paid Turkey to host refugees in return for a managed resettlement programme did much to stem record flows to the bloc, but recriminations between Greece and Turkey have put it under strain, and rising numbers of migrants are fuelling the far-right across Europe.
Erdogan, who recently described Germany to reporters as “Europe’s most powerful country”, may hope to win Scholz’s backing to revive stalled talks on modernising Turkey’s customs union with the EU – although major changes will not come until long after elections in March.
Despite both sides’ efforts, Gaza has already had an impact on the visit: Erdogan was originally due to stay another day, which would have allowed him and Scholz to take in Saturday’s soccer friendly between the two countries.
With some 3 million people with Turkish roots in Germany, such encounters are always fraught, but now the risk was judged too great.
“There was a fear that there’d be anti-Israel chants,” said Aydin Yasar, a Turkey specialist at German thinktank SWP.
“It’s unlikely Scholz would want to watch it with him. At other times it would have been a nice gesture.”