Despite several controversial issues, especially regarding refugee policy, the mood between Chancellor Merkel and President Erdogan appeared to be relaxed at their meeting on Friday. Merkel commended and thanked Turkey for its commitment to the refugee crisis and pledged Germany’s support – financially as well. After all, what Turkey has been doing was “remarkable.” Nevertheless, there was no convergence on the subject of Libya.
At the beginning of the meeting in Istanbul, Chancellor Merkel and President Erdogan demonstrated friendship and harmony: warm words were exchanged at the joint opening of the new campus of the Turkish-German University. “The Turkish-German University is a jewel in the relations between our two countries and happiness for our two societies,” Merkel said, while Erdogan added, “I warmly welcome my dear friend, German Chancellor Merkel, to our country.”
During the private conversation between the two leaders afterward, several controversial issues were addressed — for example, the conflict in Libya. Erdogan said: “The fact that the attacks by coup general Khalifa Haftar and his supporters have increased in recent days is a sign that he is not in favor of an agreement. We are definitely determined to keep our Libyan siblings in them not to leave difficult times alone. ”
Merkel responded that there had been individual violations of this ceasefire, which was “indisputable.” However, overall, the intensity of military action had declined significantly since the Berlin conference, and even before that, when Russia and Turkey agreed to the ceasefire. A common point of view, however, due to the actor’s opposed goals in the conflicts, was not to be expected.
However, both were able to concur on other issues. For example, Merkel Erdogan held out the prospect of further EU financial aid for Syrian refugees. The images from the overcrowded camps, and Erdogan’s threats to open the borders, had fueled concerns about a new refugee crisis. “I can very well imagine that the EU will provide support beyond the two billion euros,” Merkel said and praised Turkey’s commitment in accepting up to 4 million refugees and integrate them: “What Turkey has been doing is remarkable,”
Besides the additional money, an issue that Turkey has continued to raise, Merkel also pledged to help Turkey in strengthening its coast guard. The Turkish coast guard plays an essential role in trying to stop migrants on their way to Greece and thus to the European Union. Most recently, more boats with refugees from Turkey had arrived on the Greek islands.
Meanwhile, Erdogan called on the EU to take more responsibility for the care of Syrian refugees in the joint press conference. The fact that the EU and the European countries “provide the Syrians with even more and faster aid is first and foremost a human responsibility,” he stated. Despite the vast number of refugees Turkey has accepted from Syria, the fighting around the rebel-controlled Syrian region Idlib has recently intensified. Erdogan said that around 400,000 people have now fled to the Turkish border. Nonetheless, during the meeting, Erdogan did not make any new threats of sending refugees to Europe.
Besides the geopolitical issues, both had another topic on the list. In connection with the bilateral issues, they also talked about the fact that they seek to continue working on the fact that people with German citizenship who cannot leave the country or are currently in custody. This issue needed to be addressed on a case by case issue, Merkel demanded. According to official information, 59 Germans are currently in Turkish prisons.
All in all, the conversation between Chancellor Merkel and Turkish President Erdogan lasted an hour and a half. However, it remains to be seen how many of Merkel’s pledges will materialize, particularly in lights of the fact that the Libya issue will not resolve itself anytime soon. Moreover, the SPD’s proclivity – Merkel’s coalition partner – to agree on payments for Turkey while Ankara appears to be violating the human rights of German citizens, is also highly inconceivable.
Merkel, of course, is cognizant of these obstacles, and one should not be surprised if it turned out, that all her visit and her promises (and lofty compliments) aimed to achieve, was to buy time. Time until Turkey’s position of leverage diminishes.