A new dispute between Ankara and Berlin has arisen, with the Turkish president being refused permission to hold a rally for ethnic Turks while he is attending the G20 summit next week in Germany.
“We don't have the police forces available to ensure security, given the G20,” said German Foreign Minister Sigma Gabriel. “But I also told them [Turkey] openly that such an appearance was not appropriate, given the conflict situation that exists with Turkey, and that it would not fit into the political landscape at this time.”
Relations between the two NATO members are at an unprecedented low. But Gabriel's announcement appears to have taken Ankara by surprise.
“We are following the statements from Germany carefully,” said an anonymous presidential source, quoted in the Turkish media.
Attempts to get an official comment met with no success.
The Turkish foreign ministry, in a statement Thursday, slammed Social Democratic Party of Germany leader Martin Schulz for his demand that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan be prevented from speaking during his German visit.
“Particularly, the approach of someone who held the position of the presidency of the European Parliament towards imposing restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression once again reflects the true face of the mentality that we confront, as well as the double standard of those who aim to lecture the others,” declared the Turkish Foreign Ministry statement.
Influenced by election campaign
There is a perception in Ankara that Erdogan's visit has fallen victim to the German general election campaign. Analysts said standing up to Erdogan will likely play well with German voters, given the current crackdown in Turkey that continues to draw growing international criticism and the fact the Turkish president accused German leaders of behaving like Nazis during his April referendum campaign to extend his powers.
German authorities have raised concerns related to Erdogan's body guards who are wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly beating protesters during the Turkish president's visit last month to Washington.
“I have reason to expect that these people [bodyguards], who have been incriminated by the American criminal justice (system) will not step onto German soil in the foreseeable future, including during the G20 summit.” said German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer.
Pro-government Turkish media slammed the decision claiming Erdogan will be visiting Germany unprotected.
Erdogan stoked tensions before his German visit, warning that three million or so ethnic Turkish voters could be decisive in the forthcoming German polls.
"The Germans are very unhappy with UETD,[United European Turkish Democrats]. This is a Europe-wide organization of Erdogan's AKP Party. One of their aims is to get into the European political system through different parties," points out Professor Cengiz Aktar, an expert on Turkish European relations. "We've seen this in the recent French elections and the German officials are very unhappy about any interference in their elections."
Bilateral relations are still recovering from political fallout after German authorities banned some Turkish Cabinet ministers from campaigning for ethnic Turk votes in Germany during the April referendum. With Germany in the midst of its own election, there is little expedition of any improvement in ties soon.
“We have to wait for the German elections and this going to take place in September so this summer will not give an opportunity for a new momentum [in German-Turkish relations],” warns retired Turkish ambassador Unal Cevikoz, who now heads the Ankara Policy forum research organization. “But towards the end of Autumn this year we may see a new momentum.”
The current bilateral strains are having real consequences. Berlin is relocating its forces in the coalition against Islamic State from the Turkish Incirlik air base, in response to Ankara's restrictions on access to the base. This week, German daily Die Welt reported Turkish intelligence is collecting information on members of the German parliament.
'Boy who cried wolf'
Ankara accuses Berlin of providing sanctuary to people involved in the July 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan and his ministers routinely threaten Berlin with ending a refugee deal with the European Union that has slowed the exodus of immigrants into Europe and Germany. But there is skepticism Ankara would ever take such a dramatic step.
“You can only use leverage up to point otherwise it becomes the story of the boy who cried wolf,” observes Semih Idiz of al-Monitor website. “If you keep saying you are going to do it, you are going to do it, but in the end nobody takes you seriously, and I think that's the problem facing Turkey at the moment.”
Ankara's reticence to play the migrant card is a sign that pragmatism on both sides will likely control the current tensions.
“German Turkish relations are very tense,” points out analyst Aktar, “but Germany has huge economic stakes in Turkey so they will never sever the relationship similarly for Turkey.”