Why Merkel can't afford to lose Turkey as partner in refugee crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has never been one for grandiose rhetoric. But her recent comments on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's purge of coup supporters came as a surprise to many - even those who have come to expect her cautious pragmatism.

"When a coup attempt like this happens in a country, it is important to take action against the rebels with all means available to the constitutional state," Merkel said, adding that Erdogan's government should "exercise proportionality" in its response.

All eyes were on Merkel to condemn the post-coup crackdown by Erdogan, whose increasing authoritarianism has repeatedly spilled over into Germany. Her failure to do so prompted a barrage of criticism from across the political establishment.

"What is happening in Turkey is totally unacceptable - [Merkel's decision to ignore it] makes us susceptible to blackmail," Left Party lawmaker Dietmar Bartsch said Tuesday in a radio interview with Deutschlandfunk.

"Erdogan will continue to take liberties until Germany is totally incapable of taking action," he said, adding his voice to growing calls in Germany for the cancellation of the EU's refugee deal with Ankara and an end to the prospect of Turkish accession to the bloc.

Since the German parliament decided in June to call the Turkish massacre of Armenians a century ago genocide, Erdogan has given the cold shoulder to the German ambassador, threatened German lawmakers and banned parliamentarians from visiting their troops in Turkey.

His crackdown after the July 15-16 coup attempt has also sowed deep divisions within Germany's large Turkish community, prompting authorities to ban Erdogan from addressing a rally of his supporters in Cologne via video link for fear it could incite violence.

Despite these developments, Merkel - whose public support plummeted from 59 per cent to 47 per cent in this month's Deutschlandtrend survey - seems undeterred in her attempts to maintain Turkey as a partner in ending irregular migration to Europe.

Officials in her government argue that the refugee deal between the European Union and Turkey was and continues to be instrumental in stemming the flow of people from Turkey to the Greek islands.

Under the scheme, one Syrian refugee is settled in Europe legally in return for every migrant taken back by Turkey from EU member Greece. Proponents say the arrangement acts as a disincentive for those considering the journey and has significantly reduced the number of new arrivals.

"We have no indication that the people who have been welcomed by Turkey or returned there have been mistreated," said Peter Altmaier, a close ally of Merkel and chief of staff at her chancellery. "At the moment, everything is being executed according to the agreement."

Pundits say Merkel's stance on Turkey is part of her come-what-may approach to ending irregular migration to Europe, thereby assuaging her domestic critics, many of whom argue her decision to keep German borders open to refugees represents a threat to national security.

Merkel is pursuing a "dual strategy towards Turkey" that involves separating "the question of the refugee agreement ... from long-term decisions on what the relationship between Turkey and the EU should look like," conservative newspaper Die Welt wrote in an editorial.

"Her stance is wholly unsurprising and fits into her overarching political vision: that Germany can only transcend its own past within the framework of a united Europe," said a member of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on condition of anonymity.

"The refugee crisis represents the most significant threat to the integrity of Europe - in comparison, temporarily appeasing Erdogan seems like a small sacrifice," he said.

Last update: Mon, 08/08/2016 - 17:26
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