German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Turkey on Sunday to meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time since February 2013, for talks on how to deal with the refugee crisis in Europe.
European leaders have rarely visited Turkey since the 2013 crackdown on Gezi park protesters, pointing to the European Union’s long-simmering frustrations with Erdogan.
Some observers regard the visit to be a boost for Erdogan as it comes ahead of Turkey’s general election on November 1, when voters will decide his own political fate.
Many in the Turkish opposition have criticized the Merkel visit, with the largest party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), unhappy that no meeting with the opposition was planned.
“That she did not request a meeting with the CHP or with the opposition at all” raises the impression that she is participating in the election campaign, said Erdal Aksunger, chief advisor to CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) further accused Merkel of engaging in a “dirty deal” with Erdogan. “It goes like this: ‘Don’t send us any more refugees, bring it to an end and get 3 billion euros,'” said HDP deputy leader Nazmi Gur.
The EU, of which Germany is a leading member, is seeking help from Turkey in dealing with the current refugee crisis, with the EU reaching a preliminary agreement with Turkey on Friday on curbing the flow of refugees in return for financial assistance and progress on Ankara’s relations with Brussels.
Merkel has to address Erdogan’s Syria policies, Gur stated, saying the failure of these has led to the current migration “drama.”
A majority of refugees travel via Turkey, which so far has taken in more than 2 million people from Syria alone, while Germany is expecting to take in as many as 1 million refugees this year. Whether the flow can be stemmed depends especially on the will of the political leadership in Ankara.
Before the trip, Merkel however said that “on Sunday all the issues will be on the table.”
Those issues will include in addition to migration the conflict in Syria, visa restrictions, safe country of origin status, third-country status, the joint struggle against terrorism, and human rights in Turkey, she said.