Economic Relations between Turkey and Germany

By Inat, Kemal | Insight Turkey, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Economic Relations between Turkey and Germany


Inat, Kemal, Insight Turkey


"History unites or separates people and peoples. But I am certain that the German and Turkish peoples will stand not against each other but side by side in future centuries." (1)

Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq

As an ambassador to the Ottoman State from the Holy Roman Empire and the King of Germany Charles V, Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq officiated in Istanbul between 1554 and 1592. Do the above remarks by Busbecq on the future of Turkish-German relations reflect the truth or do they simply remain a wish? Close cooperation between the two peoples in the late 19th century and their alliance in World War I helped the formation of long years of a brotherhood in arms (Waffenbruderschaft), and the two states established by these peoples "stood together" as Busbeck had wished. However, as a result of the negative approach adopted by Germany in the 1980s towards the full membership of Turkey in the European Union (EU); and later on, its support or tolerance of outlawed terrorist organizations posing a security threat to Turkey, (2) ensuing skepticism has led to an opinion that the States of Turkey and Germany, though not the Turkish and German peoples, no longer stand together but have begun to stand against each other.

Although Turkey and Germany are both NATO allies, the recent wiretapping scandal, the NSU murders, and serious mutual accusations in the media of both countries have consolidated such skepticism and opened the alliance of Turkey and Germany to question. Thus, it has been shown once again that bilateral relations between the two capitals are mainly determined, not by "historic friendship" (historische Freundschaft), as has been expressed on many occasion, but by "interests." A Germany's efforts, since the second half of 2015, to seek rapprochement with Ankara in order to ease the pressure on Berlin due to the Syrian refugee crisis can be considered as a case in point.

From an economic perspective, the concept of self-interest, i.e. self-gain, is the primary determinant, and Germany, as an important "trade state," adopts a policy that prioritizes its economic interests in its bilateral relations with Turkey. This policy originates from efforts to shape political affairs in accordance with economic interests. In this context, Germany, in general, tries to avoid behaviors that negatively affect trade with Turkey, and watches out for political problems between the two countries so as not to jeopardize the investments of German firms in Turkey.

From Turkey's perspective, Germany has always been given importance as Turkey's number one partner in trade, a country that has sent the highest number of tourists to Turkey for many years, and a host country to millions of Turkish immigrants. Turkey has placed a great emphasis on its economic partnership with Berlin. However, one should note that political problems, which have been difficult to manage at times, remain an obstacle impeding the further development of bilateral relations, in spite of the fact that both Turkey and Germany have adopted the perspective of a "foreign policy focused on economic development." (3)

Key Determinants of Turkish-German Economic Relations

Political Problems

The increase in political problems involving Turkish-German relations as of the 1980s has become one of the factors that negatively affect bilateral economic relations. To understand how the "brotherhood of arms," which was highly spoken of in the past and the "historic friendship" have transformed into a problematic and insecure atmosphere today in Ankara-Berlin relations, it is beneficial to examine the historic background of Turkey-Germany relations and the characteristics of the so-called "historic friendship" period in particular. While doing so, one should always remember that the relations of international actors are shaped through the concept of "self-interest" not "friendship," and that friendship matters only to a certain extent in order to acquire the desired gains. …

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