ANKARA, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a visit to Turkey on Thursday ahead of an EU summit in Malta whose main focus is refugee issue, because the German politician wants to ensure a migrant deal with Turkey in advance of an election in her country, according to local experts.
“Merkel wants Turkey to stick to refugee agreement because she does not want to lose the elections,” associate professor Nail Alkan in Gazi University, an expert on Turkey-Germany relations, told Xinhua.
The Chancellor paid a one-day working visit to Ankara on Thursday and met with Turkish leaders. Merkel praised a refugee deal between Turkey and the EU, at which Ankara is expecting visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens, six billion euros in aid for refugees being sheltered on its soil as well as expedited talks about its accession to the union. Yet, the deal is at risk since Turkey could not fulfill remaining benchmarks for visa liberalization.
Moreover, a dispute between Ankara and Athens over extradition of suspected coup plotters in Greece has sparked fury in Turkish capital and Turkey warned its neighbor for suspending refugee deal that would pave the way for illegal crossings of thousands of refugees as it happened in 2015.
Merkel underlined that the agreement has worked for interest of both Turkey and EU and should be kept alive. “What is important for me is to continue discussions and find solutions,” she noted.
“It’s obvious that she needs Turkey,” Alkan said recalling September elections in Germany and a rival candidate from center-left party, Martin Schulz, in the battle to become the country’s next chancellor.
The expert cited political pressure that Merkel has been facing after her decision in 2015 to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter the country.
German Chancellor has to convince voters that she is capable of dealing with the issue following her conservative party’s loss in 2016 in the state elections as the result of the mass arrival of refugees and a resulting protest vote against the party.
Alkan also cited ongoing strain between Ankara and Berlin due to more than 40 Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Germany since a failed coup attempt in Turkey.
Ankara assumes soldiers being suspected followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the failed coup attempt.
A total of 1,700 Turkish nationals applied for asylum in Germany in 2015, but the number exceeded 5,700 in 2016, according to figures from spokesman of the German Interior Ministry.
Prof. Dr. Huseyin Bagci, an expert on Turkish foreign policy, head of department for International Relations, Middle East Technical University, said that Germany is concerned about deteriorating ties between Turkey and Greece because of a threat of refugee influx towards European Union countries if Ankara allows them cross into Europe.
“The EU has to intervene into the situation if Turkey again allows refugees cross its borders into Europe,” he said underlining that this is a significant leverage in the hands of Ankara.
Taking account the upcoming race for German politics, Merkel needs Turkey, according to Ozan Ceyhun, local Daily Sabah columnist and a former German-Turkish European Parliament MP.
Merkel’s visit to Ankara can restore bilateral ties only if Berlin meets demands by Ankara in fight against terrorism, Ceyhun said.
“Turkey also needs Germany’s cooperation, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism, an area in which it has harshly criticized Germany, but rightfully so,” he said recalling that Germany has previously turned down Ankara’s requests to extradite members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the followers of Gulen.
In a joint press conference, Merkel and President Tayyip Erdogan pledged necessity for further cooperation in fight against terror.
“We have discussed what we can do in fight against terrorism. We are two NATO allies. I believe our cooperation with Germany, which is also a part of (anti-Islamic State) coalition forces, should continue as we earlier performed about Ukraine,” the Turkish president said.
Merkel underlined that the two countries should make “closer cooperation in fight against every kind of terror organization,” but also added that Germany would decide extradition of suspected coup plotters only over rulings of “independent” German courts.