German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not amused when she learnt last year the United States secret service had tapped her phone for years.
Eavesdropping is not expected among friends, Ms. Merkel told U.S. President Barack Obama.
But with regards to Turkey, a Muslim country and important Nato ally in the Middle East, other rules apply.
The German foreign intelligence service has apparently been spying too — on Turkey and on Turkish citizens living in Germany for years — German media reported earlier this week.
Turkey, Germany’s third-largest export market outside Europe, is one of the official targets of the foreign intelligence service, German magazine Der Spiegel reported over the weekend. Ironically, Der Spiegel cited one of the documents – a so-called “mission profile” – which was leaked by a German foreign intelligence employee to the United States.
The German foreign intelligence service has been spying on Turkey and Turkish citizens in Germany for years, German media reported earlier this week.
The German government on Monday declined to confirm neither the Der Spiegel nor other reports on the affair, saying a parliamentary committee was the place to discuss matters which concerned the foreign intelligence service.
“I can only say that this mission profile, according to which the foreign intelligence service acts, is divided up in foreign and security policy issues which are of importance to the Federal Republic. In this mission profile, the areas, issues and countries are defined which are the focus points for intelligence,” government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz said on Monday.
The German intelligence service was not immediately available to comment on Wednesday. The Germany’s Foreign Affairs Ministry did not want to elaborate on the matter, referring to the government’s statements on Monday.
Turkey, however, did respond. Within twenty four hours of the Der Spiegel report, it said that, if true, “such practices cannot be accepted under any circumstances”.
“It should also be known that this practice, which is at variance with the historically deep rooted relations of friendship and alliance between Turkey and Germany, would damage our joint struggle against the real challenges threatening international security and stability,” Turkish Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
Relations with Turkey, which was once seen as a potential EU member, have suffered as a consequence of Turkish Prime Minister’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership, which is seen in Europe as authoritarian.
His government temporarily banned social media including YouTube and Twitter last summer when protest broke out in Turkey over Erdogan’s policies, and members of the police and judiciary who criticized Mr. Erdogan were removed.
Nevertheless, his country, which borders to Syria and Iraq in the south, is an important ally to help in the fight against Islamic insurgents, called Islamic State, in the region. This is not expected to change.
The German-Turkish Chamber of Commerce said relations with Germany, home to about 3 million Turkish people, would remain strong.
“Considering the spying scandal, there have been bigger problems in the relationship between Turkey and Germany which they have weathered in the past. The politicians are dealing with this but I don’t think it will damage the bilateral relationship,” Chamber of Commerce spokesman Sebastian Sönksen said.
“Germany is not spying on the Turkish government but is looking at security issues involving Syria and other countries,” he said.
Nicholas Spiro of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, which advises businesses on political and economic risks, also said the consequences of the German revelations would be insignificant.
“The most important point is this really is a storm in a teacup. Right now Turkey is charting a different path to the one it was charting 12 years ago. To all intents and purposes EU accession, EU membership is pretty much a non-starter as far as EU is concerned. Any diplomatic fallout from this spying scandal pales by comparison form the fallout it could have had back then,” Spiro said.
“Turkey has built better trading links to the Middle East to offset the sharp fall in exports to the Eurozone. That’s been one of Turkey saving graces, the fact that it has re-orientated its trade to the Middle East,” Spiro said.
Germany’s spying activities in Turkey have also resulted in the tapping of phone calls of former U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton, and her successor, John Kerry, when they were in the Middle East, German media reported.
Magazine Der Spiegel called the revelations “a diplomatic bankruptcy in twofold” at a time Turkey was needed as an important ally in the fight against the insurgents Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.