After a couple of turbulent years with Germany, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's official visit to Berlin demonstrates that while there is still a ways to go for properly normalized ties, the two countries are headed in the right direction.
There is a genuine will in Berlin to improve and enhance the relations between the two countries, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is doing her best to manage a rather tricky situation.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Merkel were under intense pressure from the strong anti-Turkey lobby that has grown in strength over the years. These include a respectable section of the German media led by the highly pro-Israeli Axel-Springer group, the followers of Fetullah Gülen – the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) – in Germany, the left-wing pro-PKK romantics and unfortunately, the rising radical right-wing groups.
Both the conservative Merkel and social democrat Steinmeier have been hit hard by their adversaries because of their ties with Erdoğan and Turkey. That is why Merkel to some extent and Steinmeier to a larger extent have tried to balance their public appearances with Erdoğan, which did not go over well with the Turkish leader.
However, small nuances have also shown that the Germans are prepared to approach the issues with a Turkish perspective when Merkel, during her joint press conference with Erdoğan, referred to FETÖ as the "Gülen organization" but then said they needed more evidence to brand this group a terrorist organization.
Until then, the Germans called FETÖ a movement and not an organization. Germans today are concentrating on the activities of radical Muslim groups, like Daesh, in Germany and still regard FETÖ as a moderate movement. It seems German authorities are reluctant to turn against the group. So, Merkel's willingness to call them as an organization is a small but significant step in the right direction; yet, we still have a long way to go.
In essence, Germany considers Turkey, bordering the Middle East and Syria, a vital ally and recognizes Turkey's growing influence in the region, while wanting to remain on Ankara's good side rather than become an adversary.
The fact that Turkey serves as an effective buffer zone for Europe as its continues to stem the flow of Syrian migrants to northern Europe is something that Germans appreciate and want to preserve – especially after the recent tense, but now resolved, situation in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, where 3.5 million refugees that fled the civil war would have flooded into Turkey and then Europe if conflict had erupted.
Germany also considers Turkey a good economic partner, especially since the world was hit by a massive trade war unleashed by U.S. President Donald Trump.
There is still much to do to build stronger Turkish-German ties, but Erdoğan's visit to Berlin and then to Cologne to open a mosque are right steps in the right direction. Now, we have to build on this by creating a common understanding on outstanding issues, while we use our newly found common ground to move ahead.