On the Stump Erdogan Lashes Out at Germany in Search of Votes
Part 2: EU 'Negotiations Should Be Put in a Deep Freeze'
That helps explain why the most recent scandal surrounding Erdogan has done little more than trigger the same old reflexes. Conservative politicians in Germany, for example, reacted as they always have: with the demand that ongoing EU accession talks be abandoned. "Turkey is developing away from our tried-and-true European standards," says David McAllister, lead candidate for Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in the EU elections. He says the country isn't exactly recommending itself for EU membership. "The negotiations should be put in a deep freeze," Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a politician with the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, told the German daily Die Welt. Dilek Kurban, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, believes that a definitive EU rejection of Turkish membership could force Erdogan's hand, even though that step would carry the risk of losing whatever influence it still has in the country.
The Foreign Ministry in Berlin, though, says it is more important now than ever to force accession talks ahead. "We have to compel Turkey to speak with us about such issues as the rule of law, an independent judiciary and press freedoms," says Michael Roth, a state minister in the Foreign Ministry. "Erdogan's comments are a reason to intensify the negotiations rather than to break them off."
The European Commission has also rejected demands that the talks be abandoned. "Only a credible accession process can help Turkey overcome its current problems," says an EU official close to the talks.
But German politicians are concerned that Erdogan could export domestic Turkish conflicts to Germany. The debate over immigration triggered by xenophobic author Thilo Sarrazin and the string of murders targeting Turkish immigrants perpetrated by the NSU neo-Nazi terror cell have made immigrants here uneasy. Furthermore, many Turkish-Germans feel that politicians here don't take their concerns seriously. The Turkish government has tried to fill this gap, with Erdogan posing as the patron of the Turkish diaspora. At a campaign appearance in Düsseldorf in 2011, he said: "I am here to look after your well-being. You are my citizens, you are my friends, you are my brothers and sisters."
Erdogan rejects all criticism of his government from abroad. At the same time, he spent months deploring the alleged forced conversions of Muslim Turkish foster children in Europe. His deputy also criticized Germany's policy of requiring immigrants to take German courses as a "human rights violation." Such aggressive rhetoric has driven a wedge between immigrants and German society.
There are between 1.1 and 1.3 million Turks living in Germany who have the right to vote in Turkey. After Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, Germany is the fourth largest Turkish voting district. As a result, Erdogan has long since perfected his foreign campaign strategy and expanded his stump activities to Germany. As early as 2004, the premier founded the Union of European Turkish Democrats in Cologne, a lobbying group for his conservative AKP. Then, in 2010, Erdogan established an office for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (UETD), an authority in Ankara with some 300 employees who are responsible for the 4 million Turks living outside the country.
Most recently, Erdogan held a speech before thousands of people in Berlin's Tempodrom arena in February. Ecstatic followers waved flags and chanted: "Tayyip, the country is with you!"
Now, Erdogan is hoping that the Olympic Stadium in Berlin will be transformed this summer into the world's largest polling station. Thus far, Turkish Germans have been forced to travel to Turkey in order to vote; the country does not have a vote-by-mail program. For the presidential election on Aug. 10, the Turkish government is planning on setting up ballot boxes in the Berlin stadium as well as in Frankfurt's Fraport Arena, in the ISS Dome in Düsseldorf and in convention halls in Hanover, Munich and Karlsruhe. Chancellor Merkel indicated in February that she would help ensure that Turks in Germany could take part in the presidential elections. Other countries, after all, make it possible for their citizens to vote in Germany -- though the ballots are usually filled out in consulates and embassies rather than in stadiums. The Interior Ministry is now checking to determine whether security at the Olympic Stadium can be guaranteed for such an event.
Left Party foreign policy expert Sevim Dagdelen is concerned that the campaign could disrupt the peaceful coexistence of Germans and Turks in Germany.
"The Turkish-German community is split into supporters and detractors of Erdogan," Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish Community in Germany, agrees. "This could lead to tensions ahead of the presidential election this summer."
A first glimpse of the emotions in question could be provided by the 10th birthday celebration for the UETD on May 24. Erdogan plans to hold a speech before 20,000 followers in Cologne's Lanxess Arena that day. People close to the premier say that he could use the occasion to officially announce his candidacy for the office of the presidency.
By Ralf Neukirch, Paul Middelhoff, Maximilian Popp, Christoph Schult and Oliver Trenkamp
- Part 1: Erdogan Lashes Out at Germany in Search of Votes
- Part 2: EU 'Negotiations Should Be Put in a Deep Freeze'