German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited progress on Turkey’s willingness to work with Europe in tackling the region’s refugee crisis as she traveled to Istanbul two weeks before national elections to woo Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“We need to return to orderly and controlled processes and I sensed Turkey’s readiness to work toward that,” Merkel said Sunday after meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, before her talks with Erdogan. She defended the timing of her visit during a heated campaign: “I have the impression that politically urgent questions also can and should be discussed at election time.”
Turkey was left in the lurch by its international partners as it absorbed more than 2 million refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria in the past four years, the prime minister said. Merkel said she would offer her support as Turkey demands European Union funding, visa liberalization and advances in its EU accession talks.
“We talked about sharing the burden, and the chancellor agreed to support Turkey,” Erdogan said alongside Merkel in a brief, scripted statement in Turkey’s largest city. The German leader left after meeting Erdogan, avoiding any talks with opposition parties.
Pressure that’s building on the German leader at home to resolve the region’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II prompted her to wade into the heat of an election contest to offer concessions, seeking something in return from Turkey.
Erdogan, long criticized by the EU as using autocratic methods to squelch dissent and accumulate power, was in a position to leverage his newfound importance to European interests as he seeks victory in snap elections on November 1.
At an EU summit that ended Friday, Merkel argued in favor of 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in aid to Turkey. When the preliminary deal worked out between Turkey and the EU was discussed at the summit, the 28 government leaders bristled at the list of demands from Erdogan, including progress on stalled EU membership talks.
As at least 800,000 refugees are expected in Germany this year, Merkel’s government is pressing for tighter security at the Turkish border with Greece, the EU entry point for thousands arriving in inflatable boats on Greek islands, and better incentives for refugees to stay in Turkey.
The jostling offers Erdogan leverage as he seeks to restore the government majority that the Justice and Development Party, AKP, lost in a June 7 election after the success of a pro- Kurdish group. The standoff prevented a single-party government and prompted the repeat election.
In Germany, whose 81 million residents include about 3 million of Turkish descent, growing public resistance to the refugee influx is eroding the power base of Merkel, the leader of Europe’s biggest economy who held the euro area together through the financial crisis.
“We appreciate the leadership of Angela Merkel, who’s taken a brave stance on this even while some countries have wanted to close their doors,” Davutoglu said with Merkel, before heading off to an AKP election rally.