How Turkey influences German politics – Erdoğan’s power and the AKP networks

This article was originally published by Greek City Times. The original can be found Here.

The political influence of the Turkish population of Germany is one of the parameters that should be evaluated, as long as interpretations of the ambivalence of Berlin regarding the Greek-Turkish tension are attempted, To Vima wrote.

Merkel, the pressures and the equal distances

One year before the elections and at the end of Angela Merkel’s fourth term as German Chancellor, the crisis between Athens and Ankara forms a complex condition for the political balance in Germany. The attitude of the German Government has been described as a constant effort to maintain equal distances between Greece and Turkey – on the one hand because of the intended role of the ombudsman, and on the other hand because of the de facto political influence of the Turkish factor. This concerns, on the one hand, the bilateral economic relations and, on the other hand, the role of the millions of Turks in Germany and how they influence political developments in not only Germany, but also Turkey.

Today, about 3 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany. About half of them have the right to vote in their homeland. In the 2017 referendum in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan managed to pass the constitutional changes and gain absolute political sovereignty, the percentage of Turks in Germany who voted for him rose to about 65%. This percentage was much higher than the total (and marginal) 51.2%, with which Erdoğan won the referendum.

The majority of these people in Germany are Sunni Muslims, an element that the Turkish president has made effective use of. According to political analysts, the mechanism that Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) studied and analyzed in detail, such as the places of origin of Turkish immigrants, has developed networks in their current places of residence. These analyses show that most of Erdoğan’s supporters in Germany come mainly from areas of Turkey that are considered AKP strongholds.

Erdoğan and the Center-Left vote

At the same time, more than 1 million citizens of Turkish descent have the right to vote in Germany. Traditionally, the most popular party for Turks are the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), with percentages which, despite decline in recent years, exceed 35%, while the popularity of the ruling Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) has increased to about 30%, and around 15% for the Greens.

The electoral behavior of the Turks of Germany presents a peculiarity and is the subject of study of many German think tanks and institutes. Given Erdoğan’s Islamist leanings, political analysts say it is paradoxical for the majority to vote for center-left or left-wing parties, but at the same time remain “captive” to the Turkish president’s neo-Ottoman visions at the Turkish polls.

These elements compose a parameter that largely illuminates one aspect of Turkish-German relations. It is not just economic and trade transactions, investments or the historical relationship between the two countries that are influential. It is also the direct intervention of the Turks in the political developments in Germany. From the early 1960’s onwards, the dizzying rise in the population of Turks formed a factor of two-way political influence in both countries. Suffice it to say that in 1961 there were only 6,800 Turkish citizens in Germany. In the following decades, and summing up the second and third generations, they now approached three million.

The economic activity of these groups is also important. At the beginning of the last decade, there were about 80,000 Turkish-owned companies operating in Germany, which employed about half a million workers and had a total turnover of 40 billion euros.

The influence in Northern Rhineland and the case of Bavaria

In view of the German elections of 2021, the influence of this population group is gaining special weight. The geographical distribution of Turkish citizens or German citizens of Turkish origin is also crucial in this regard. 33.4% of them live in North Rhine-Westphalia, 17.3% in Baden-Württemberg, only 13.1% in Bavaria, followed by smaller groups in the other states.

Based on what is currently being discussed in Germany, CDU’s Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, where most Turks or citizens of Turkish descent live, seems to have significant chances . It is understandable that in this light the Turkish factor will play its role.

Among the possible candidates is the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) Prime Minister of Bavaria, Markus Söder. In this particular state, the Turkish population is clearly smaller, while the CSU’s Immigration policy is completely different.

At the moment, however, the dynamics of the Bavarian prime minister and his ability to succeed Merkel are being questioned. After all, never before has a CSU candidate won the Bundestag election, something that Franz Josef Strauss and Edmund Rüdiger Stoiber have sought.