There isn’t really anything new in what the German interior ministry, on the basis of information from the foreign intelligence agency, the BND, wrote concerning the involvement of the Turkish government with Islamic extremists.
It is known that already during his time as prime minister in the early 2000s, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan rolled out the red carpet for the radical Islamist Hamas. Nor is it a surprise that for years, fighters of the IS terrorist militia have crossed the Turkish-Syrian border at their pleasure, used Turkey as a refuge and established a dense network there for acquiring recruits. And even without the BND, it was known that the Turkish intelligence service delivers weapons to Islamist extremists in Syria. The Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet already documented this fact last year; as a result, its editor in chief Can Dündar is now on the run.
So it is in no way spectacular information that the interior ministry provided in response to a parliamentary inquiry from the Left Party. What is politically explosive is that the federal government has now put these findings on paper and thereby officially made them its own – even if it would have much preferred to keep them confidential for “reasons of state.”
It had to be expected that the paper would be leaked or later. Just as hair-raising as this negligence is the plea of the interior ministry that the obviously imperative consultation with the foreign ministry did not take place “because of an office mistake.”
The Turkish foreign ministry, on the other hand, considers the paper to be a new “attempt at attrition.” A further chilling can be expected in the German-Turkish relationship that has been pretty shaken ever since the Bundestag’s resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. The question as to what conclusions the federal government should draw seems obvious but is the wrong one. Because as said before: The information now being made public has long been known in Berlin – before October 2015 when the chancellor met Mr. Erdogan in Istanbul as well as this March during the negotiations about the refugee deal.
But it is not surprising that the call for a change in policies toward Ankara is being revived just as during Mr. Erdogan’s “cleansings” after the failed coup attempt. Yet, whoever calls for a new policy toward Turkey must say what it should look like.
An immediate end to negotiations on Turkish entry to the European Union? The European Union would thereby relinquish its already severely limited means of influencing Turkey. That would mean abandoning the oppositional forces which, with great personal risk, advocate a Western orientation for Turkey and a strengthening of its democratic institutions.
Ever since the foundation of the Turkish Republic 93 years ago, the prospect of closer ties with Europe has been the most important stabilizing factor for the country. Now Germany in particular must have a special interest in preserving this connection – not least with regard to the more than 6,000 German companies in Turkey.
Equally short-sighted as the call for an end to E.U. negotiations are thoughts of forcing Turkey out of NATO. That won’t happen – for good reason. As an alliance partner on the threshold of the Middle East, Turkey is irreplaceable for the West. This cannot mean a free pass for Mr. Erdogan. In response to the seemingly arbitrary mass arrests after the coup attempt, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered the reminder that NATO is not only a defense alliance but also a community of shared values.
Dealing with Mr. Erdogan and his government is hard enough. For a long time it has been clear: Mr. Erdogan is no flawless democrat, and he cultivates contact with shady friends. After the thoughtless release of the ministry paper, everything will become even more difficult, especially because the writers describe Mr. Erdogan personally as a sort of terror godfather.
The chancellor and her foreign minister are not to be envied regarding their next visits to the Bosporus, whenever that should occur. Turkey – as the information gathered by the BND emphasizes once again – is a part of the problem. At the same time, however, it must also be part of the solution.
This is true for the refugee crisis as well as for the fight against the IS terrorist militia and the efforts to end the war in Syria. No path can bypass Mr. Erdogan. This has nothing to do with sweet-talking but with realpolitik. With regard to Ankara, there is truth more than ever in Vaclav Havel’s remark that politics is not the art of the possible but of the impossible.
Gerd Höhler is Handelsblatt’s Athens correspondent. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.