German chancellor visits Turkey, tough disagreements on agenda

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pays a one-day working visit to Turkey on Feb. 2 amid ongoing bilateral disagreements between Ankara and Berlin, with the German leader pursuing dialogue with Turkey due to the countries’ increasingly strained relations.

Merkel will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and PM Binali Yıldırım, as well as opposition party leaders, and visit the parliament in Ankara.

Joint efforts to address the refugee crisis, cooperation in the fight against terrorism and economic ties are all expected to be on the agenda of the talks. Turkish nationals that have applied for asylum in Germany since a failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016 and accusations that Turkish imams in Germany have been involved in spying activities for Ankara will also be prominent in discussions.

Merkel under pressure over refugee deal

The chancellor will face a tough election battle this year, amid staunch criticism of her open-door policy for refugees, which led to the arrival of 890,000 asylum seekers in the country in 2015.

During her visit to Ankara, Merkel is expected to renew support for the EU-Turkey refugee agreement to stop irregular migration. On the night of Feb. 2, the chancellor will participate in an EU summit in Malta during which the refugee crisis will be discussed.

After a Greek court refused to extradite coup suspects who sought asylum in Greece, Athens has expressed worries that Turkey may suspend the agreement with the European Union to stem migrant flows to the Greek islands. The issue is expected to be on the agenda as Greece is the main transfer route for illegal migrants to Europe.

Merkel personally negotiated the refugee deal with former Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoğlu and promised Turkey a visa waiver for its citizens as part of the original agreement.

Ankara has yet to meet the remaining benchmarks for visa liberalization, meaning the EU and Turkey failed to finalize the agreement by the end of 2016 as originally suggested.

The EU is waiting for Ankara to submit a proposal that will outline its commitment to make certain amendments in Turkish legislation, including a change in the country’s draconian anti-terror law.

Germany accused of harboring terrorists 

Ties between the two NATO partners have been strained by Berlin’s concerns about the Turkish government’s crackdown on dissidents, while Ankara has accused Germany of harboring militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

German lawmakers have encouraged Merkel to raise concerns about the Turkish government’s crackdown on dissidents during her talks in Ankara.

Ahead of the visit, Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak reiterated the Turkish government’s accusations toward Germany, saying the country was “harboring every sort of terrorist that causes trouble in Turkey.”

“Finally, prominent actors of the coup plotters, its leg in the judiciary, are being harbored in Germany,” he told Anadolu Agency on Feb. 1, likening the move to the Greek court’s decision to refuse to extradite suspected putschists.

Erdoğan earlier said he had handed Merkel 4,000 dossiers about “terrorist” suspects in Germany, but had received no response in return.

The July 15 coup attempt has compounded tensions between the two countries, as the Turkish government’s crackdown in response to the attempt prompted Merkel to caution Turkey to protect human rights.

In addition, dozens of Turkish soldiers and military personnel at NATO, including those with Turkish diplomatic passports and their families, have made asylum requests in Germany since July 15, 2016, according to German officials.

In 2015, a total of 1,700 Turkish nationals applied for asylum in Germany, but the number exceeded 5,700 in 2016, a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry said.

Turkish authorities have sent a list of officials whose passports were canceled, urging Germany to reject the asylum seekers.

Ankara also wants Berlin to hand over two high-profile Gülenist prosecutors, Zekeriya Öz and Celal Kara, who are currently believed to be in the country. German police have twice conducted raids at the addresses that Turkey provided, but the suspects were not found there, a German official, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Invitation to Dündar a ‘provocation’

Ankara was also infuriated after the German Justice Ministry invited one of Turkey’s most famous journalists, Can Dündar, to be a guest of honor at an official reception.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry called the move a “provocation” ahead of Merkel’s visit to Turkey, given that Dündar is wanted in two separate probes. German President Joachim Gauck previously received Dündar, who was later given a high-profile media award in the German capital.

Accusation of spying clerics 

Germany’s chief prosecutor launched an investigation into possible spying by Turkish clerics in the country, with the country’s domestic spy agency chief saying they “would not tolerate” Turkish intelligence operations within its borders.

Turkey allegedly asked Muslim imams that were sent to Ditib, Germany’s largest association of mosques, to provide information about followers of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, which the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the failed coup attempt.

Mehmet Görmez, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), told German news outlets on Jan. 20 that it was “devoid of reason to name the efforts of religious workers or Ditib to try to safeguard Muslims from the wrong thoughts of organizations like FETÖ and Daesh [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIL] as espionage.”

In December 2016, Turkey recalled the religious affairs attaché of the Turkish Embassy in The Hague, Yusuf Acar, after Dutch authorities accused him of gathering intelligence for the Gülen movement.

Germany refuses access to imagery from campaign against ISIL  

Germany has also ruled out giving Turkey unfiltered access to imagery gathered by Tornado fighter jets operating out of the İncirlik air base in southern Turkey as part of the broader fight against ISIL militants, the Defense Ministry said.

German lawmakers, concerned that Turkey could use the high-resolution aerial imagery in its military campaign against autonomy-seeking Kurds, have put strict limits on how German forces can share the data they gather, Germany’s Der Spiegel reported.