Already the itinerary foreshadowed political mischief. With her trips to Greece and Turkey, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock entered a diplomatic minefield. German policy toward Ankara remains guided by the objective of preventing Turkey and Europe from drifting further apart. Tangible geostrategic interests are at stake here. The war in Ukraine has confirmed Turkey’s prominent, and in some respects unique, position. The rulers in Ankara are aware of their geostrategic value – and are behaving accordingly. We see this not least in a new aggressiveness in Ankara’s foreign policy. The addressees of this policy are Syria, but above all neighboring Greece.
Ms Baerbock has experienced firsthand how miserable Greek-Turkish relations are at this stage. The joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusloglu provided firsthand visual lessons. The human rights violations and the continuing harassment of Osman Kavala by the Turkish judiciary played a secondary role. The focus of the “exchange of blows” – as Western observers have also termed the meeting with the press – was the Greek-Turkish issue.
To the delight of her Greek hosts, Ms Baerbock had left no doubt in Athens where Berlin stands in the dispute over the east Aegean islands instigated by Ankara: “Greek islands are Greek territory, and no one has the right to question that,” the German minister said.
A touch of nostalgia resonated when the Turkish foreign minister raved about the merits of the former German chancellor. Back then, under Angela Merkel, Cavusoglu had said, Germany had been an “honest broker” and “unbiased.” Today, he said, Germany – and the European Union – is falling for Greece’s propaganda.
The rulers in Ankara are aware of their geostrategic value – and are behaving accordingly. We see this not least in a new aggressiveness in Ankara’s foreign policy
Something has changed – and not just in tone. On the central issue of Greek-Turkish relations, it is not so much the German attitude; it is Ankara’s aggressiveness against its neighbor Greece, which is new in this form. When members of the Turkish government and their allies more or less openly question the territorial sovereignty of an EU member-state, a member of the German government has no choice but to back Greece. In this respect, Ms Baerbock has thus only repeated the political-diplomatic obvious in Athens and Ankara.
It would be wrong to accuse the German foreign minister of uncritical philhellenism. In Athens, Ms Baerbock found critical words for Greece’s refugee and asylum policies. The minister also rejected Athens’ demand for reparations for the crimes of the German occupation during World War II, which is part of the standard repertoire of German-Greek relations, which are anything but harmonious. “We obviously disagree on that,” she said. The same goes for the delivery of state-of-the-art German submarines to Turkey, which are a thorn in the side of the Greeks, who fear for the military balance with their big neighbor to the east.
Despite the many points of contention, Athens and Ankara agree on one thing: Neither Greece nor Turkey at this stage are interested in Berlin mediating their bilateral dispute. That was also different in Angela Merkel’s time.
Dr Ronald Meinardus is a senior research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), where he heads the Mediterranean Program.