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Erdogan Attempts Headlock on Merkel

Europe

Merkel is under rising pressure to make significant decisions and maintaining her chancellorship will become a far greater challenge than previously thought.

Angela Merkel´s lead in opinion polls over SPD´s Martin Schulz has narrowed ever since Schulz announced his candidacy. As this trend continues, she will be under pressure to respond to provocations if she is to regain the comfortable margin she once had, when Sigmar Gabriel was still leading the SPD. This time around, pressure comes from Turkey and not Greece.

In fact, pressure has been mounting on Merkel as Turkey´s Erdogan seeks to deploy a delegation of politicians to run his election campaign in German cities aimed at promoting controversial constitutional reform at home with Turkish voters living in Germany. According to a report published by the Spiegel magazine, approximately 413,000 Turks living in Germany voted in the 2015 parliamentary elections; about four times as many as voted in the presidential elections the year before.

Notably, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 59.7% of Turks living in Germany voted for Erdogan´s AKP party in the 2015 parliamentary elections (vs. 49.5% in the overall result of the election). Clearly, these numbers indicate that Erdogan has a substantial interest in securing these votes from abroad on the one hand, and on the other in “mobilising” this electorate to endorse Turkey´s position in Germany.

While German politicians are calling for a ban at a federal level (so far, large campaign speeches by Turkish officials have been prohibited at a municipal level), pressure on Merkel to take action is rising steadily. Despite Merkel´s recent telephone call with Erdogan, she was unable to de-escalate the tension that Erdogan appears to want to use in his favour. Shortly after the telephone call, Erdogan claimed that Germany´s “practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past”. The fiery rhetoric points to Turkey’s confrontational position, aimed at imposing further provocation and capitalising on Germany´s passiveness.

The reserved stance Merkel has shown so far, indicates that the German government fears that the EU agreement with Turkey on immigration is at stake here. Should Erdogan harden his position further and ultimately abandon the refugee deal, Germany would likely be the one picking up the pieces.

Effectively, Merkel finds herself compelled to take action one way or the other: (1) grant Turkish politicians Germany´s democratic right of public assembly and free speech to promote Erdogan´s campaign to reform Turkey´s constitution into a de facto less democratic one; or (2) give in to domestic demand and politely but firmly ask the Turkish government not to undertake any further attempts to campaign in Germany on the scale seen so far, thereby further angering Erdogan (and possibly also Turks living in Germany).

The first option would surely cost her valuable votes in the upcoming elections as she would be condemned for selling out European values to an autocratic regime that holds the lever to the ongoing refugee crisis. The second option could jeopardise the deal the EU has made with Turkey on controlling refugee flows and as a result could also lead to a loss of CDU voters.