Last updated in November 2017

The human factor

Germany and Turkey enjoy exceptionally intensive and wide-ranging relations stretching back over centuries.

The three million or so people of Turkish origin living in Germany – somewhat more than half of them with German citizenship – are an important factor in bilateral relations. Another factor is Turkey’s attractiveness as a tourist and holiday destination. Both factors strongly influence how Germans and Turks see each other.

In the Turkish media, there is broad coverage of Germany, the situation of the Turkish community there and Germany’s position on all issues relating to Turkey. The major Turkish dailies publish special editions in Germany and Europe, some of them with large circulations. Many Turkish media (daily newspapers and TV channels) now produce special editions and programmes for Turkish speakers living in Germany. In addition, numerous new online media outlets based in Germany have a readership in Turkey.

Turkish associations and individuals of Turkish origin are closely involved in initiatives of the German Government, such as the Integration Summit and the German Islam Conference (DIK). Moreover, in Germany there are a growing number of people with Turkish roots who are making a lasting mark on German society through their engagement in the country’s cultural, economic and political life. In Turkey this is widely seen as an additional bond between the two countries. Also, the Nationality Act of 1999 opened up new legal possibilities for many Turks living in Germany.

The status of long-term German residents in Turkey (approximately 70,000, according to Turkish government figures) has continued to improve in recent years, but it is still not entirely satisfactory when it comes to residence and work permits, the right to acquire property, etc.

Political relations

Germany has traditionally been held in high regard in Turkey. Relations between the two countries are wide-ranging and shaped by various formats for cooperation at political level. In 2013, a Strategic Dialogue was launched at foreign minister level, which includes annual meetings between the two Foreign Ministers and the setting up of a number of working groups at the level of senior government officials to address issues such as bilateral relations, security policy, counter-terrorism, regional issues and Europe. In January 2015, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoǧlu agreed to hold biennial intergovernmental consultations, which took place for the first time on 22 January 2016 in Berlin.

This foundation has in the past enabled both countries to engage in constructive cooperation even on controversial issues. Since early 2016, however, relations between Turkey and Germany have been increasingly strained by tensions. Recent points of contention in the bilateral relationship have included the German Bundestag’s Armenian resolution of June 2016, differences over visits by Members of the Bundestag to German troops stationed in Turkey, appearances by Turkish politicians in Germany and particularly the increasing number of detentions of German nationals, with the grounds for and duration of their detention being difficult to comprehend.

Germany is particularly keen to bring Turkey closer to the European Union. In 1999, under Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the course was set for Turkey’s EU candidacy. The German Government sees Turkey’s accession negotiations, which began in 2005, as an open-ended process.

The intensive relations between the two countries are also reflected in frequent two-way visits at the highest political level. Federal Chancellor Merkel most recently visited Turkey on 2 February 2017. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel last visited Turkey on 5 June 2017. There are also regular contacts between German and Turkish Government representatives at bilateral meetings or international conferences.

Economic Relations

Germany is Turkey’s most important trading partner. Bilateral trade between the two countries grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, reaching a new record of 37.3 billion euros. Turkish exports to Germany increased in 2016 by 6.4 percent from 2015 levels, to 15.3 billion euros, while Turkish imports from Germany fell year-on-year by two percent, to 21.9 billion euros (not least due to the devaluation of the Turkish lira). This trend continued into the first nine months of 2017, with Turkish exports growing by 7.1 percent and imports from Germany declining by 6.1 percent over the same period in the previous year.

Germany is also the second biggest foreign investor in Turkey, after the Netherlands, with cumulated investments totalling more than 13.5 billion euros since 1980. The number of companies in Turkey, both German and Turkish, that have received German equity investment has now risen to more than 7000. The areas in which they are active range from industrial manufacturing and the marketing of all types of products to a diverse range of service offerings to retail and wholesale operations. In Germany, some 96,000 entrepreneurs of Turkish origin employ some 500,000 people and generate annual revenues of approximately 50 billion euros.

The downturn in the Turkish tourism sector resulted in an approximately 30 percent decline in the number of visitors to the country in 2016, with the number of visitors from Germany also falling by a similar amount. This trend continued into the first nine months of 2017, with the number of German tourists declining by approximately seven percent to 2.9 million. This decline also saw Germany lose its position as the largest source market for tourists to the country to Russia (4.1 million tourists). Since 1985, the German business community in Turkey has been represented by a Delegate Office of German Industry and Commerce in Istanbul. In addition, the Turkish-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TD-IHK) was founded in Cologne in 2004. Since 2012, it has been domiciled in Berlin, with a branch office in Cologne.

An investment protection agreement between Germany and Turkey has been in place since as early as 1962. The Turkish law on international arbitration entered into force in July 2001. After the bilateral double taxation agreement of 1985 was terminated, a new double taxation agreement took effect retrospectively on 1 January 2011.

In November 2012, Germany and Turkey agreed to establish the German-Turkish Energy Forum as a framework for dialogue on energy matters between representatives of the two countries’ political and economic sectors. The first ministerial-level meeting within this framework was held in Ankara in April 2013. In addition, the two countries’ Economics Ministries agreed to set up a Joint Economic and Trade Commission (JETCO).

Development, environmental and humanitarian cooperation

Bilateral development cooperation with Turkey, which began in 1959, was officially terminated in 2008. Over the decades, the cooperation had evolved into a successful model. Germany pledged a cumulative total of more than 4.5 billion euros under financial and technical cooperation. This assistance, which took the form of grants and concessionary loans, was used to implement more than 400 projects, a few of which are still running.

Although traditional development cooperation has been phased out, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is continuing cooperation with Turkey in selected innovative and forward-looking areas. For example, the KfW Entwicklungsbank (KfW development bank), acting on behalf of the German Government, has made available extensive promotional loans, especially in the following areas: municipal infrastructure, renewable energy and energy efficiency, financial sector development and support for SMEs.

In addition to assistance provided within EU structures, the German Government is also helping Turkey to deal with the consequences of the Syrian refugee crisis through bilateral measures. Since 2012, the Federal Foreign Office has provided a total of 168.9 million euros in humanitarian aid to assist relief efforts for Syrian refugees in Turkey. The aid is being provided mainly in the form of vouchers to cover the basic needs – food, shelter and health care – of particularly vulnerable refugees. Since 2015, the BMZ has provided approximately 235 million euros to fund projects that benefit Syrian refugees and the host communities. Implementation partners include Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), KfW Entwicklungsbank, Sequa as well as United Nations organisations and international and Turkish non-governmental organisations. Special priority attaches to measures to provide schooling and vocational training and to create jobs so as to give the refugees living in Turkey prospects for the future and to ease the burden on the Turkish host communities.
Since 2006, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) has become increasingly engaged in environmental and climate protection, with discussions centring on current developments in environmental policy in Turkey and Germany. Potential cooperation on environmental and climate issues, such as water and waste management, energy and resource efficiency, capacity building to strengthen climate protection in public institutions, implementation of the Paris Agreement’s provisions on climate change mitigation and marine pollution, are being addressed in the Environment Steering Committee. The Committee has, for example, agreed on close cooperation aimed at improving the energy efficiency of wastewater treatment plants under the BMUB’s Advisory Assistance Programme (AAP). German-Turkish cooperation on energy efficiency in the building sector has also produced good results: the legal, technical and administrative framework for achieving greater energy efficiency in public buildings has been strengthened.

Cultural exchange and scientific and academic relations

The freedom of action of the press, the opposition and civil society in Turkey has been increasingly curtailed. Therefore, in November 2016, Germany’s then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier presented a set of measures to the Bundestag intended to strengthen Turkish civil society. These measures aim in particular to support scientists and academics as well as culture professionals and journalists and to significantly intensify German-Turkish youth exchange.
Lighthouse projects with Turkey as part of Germany’s cultural relations and education policy are the Tarabya Cultural Academy, the German-Turkish Youth Bridge and the Turkish-German University.  

The Tarabya Cultural Academy is a residency programme for culture professionals. Its aim is to promote and deepen cultural exchange and dialogue between German and Turkish culture professionals. The Academy opened in 2011 at a ceremony attended by the two countries’ Foreign Ministers. Since September 2012, every year some 15 scholarship holders complete months-long stays on the grounds of the German Ambassador’s historical summer residence in Tarabya. More information is available at http://kulturakademie-tarabya.de/de/.

The German-Turkish Youth Bridge (DTJB) was established by Stiftung Mercator in 2012 with the aim of strengthening bilateral youth exchange. Germany’s then Foreign Minister Steinmeier attended the official opening ceremony of the DTJB in 2014 in Istanbul. The Federal Foreign Office helps fund the DTJB’s project activities. The measures conducted by the DTJB benefit some 1500 young people every year, thus making an important contribution to civil society exchange between Turkey and Germany. More information is available at https://www.jugendbruecke.de/.

The Turkish-German University in Istanbul, the foundation stone of which was laid during then Federal President Christian Wulff’s state visit to Turkey on 22 October 2010, commenced operations in the 2013-2014 academic year and was officially opened in April 2014 by the German and Turkish Presidents. The university, which is also co-funded by the two countries, now has approximately 1400 students enrolled in thirteen degree courses. A consortium made up of 35 German higher education institutions and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is partnered with the Istanbul-based university.

The foundation for German-Turkish cooperation in higher education was laid in the 1930s and 1940s by professors seeking refuge in Turkey from the National Socialist regime, including Professor Philipp Schwartz, for whom the Philipp Schwartz Initiative is named. The Initiative was established in 2015 by the Federal Foreign Office and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to support scholars at risk. In Turkey, Germany enjoys a good reputation as a place to study and pursue research and there is a keen interest in university partnerships and research cooperation. Overall, Germany is the second most popular study destination for Turkish students. In 2016, the DAAD promoted student mobility in both directions by providing funding to more than 2900 people. In 2016, the number of German Erasmus students in Turkey declined markedly. Among the reasons for the decline are the domestic political developments following the failed coup attempt in July 2016 and the worsened security situation. Criminal and administrative measures, such as suspensions, criminal proceedings and arrests, against Turkish academics and university personnel following the signing of a petition criticising the Kurdish policy in January 2016 and the coup attempt of 15 July 2016 have caused deep concern about the state of academic freedom in Turkey.

The Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir branches of the Goethe-Institut offer a wide range of cultural programmes, thus making a contribution to intercultural exchange in all areas while also showing an increasing presence across the country. To promote German as a foreign language, they offer language courses and further-education seminars for Turkish teachers of German on a nationwide basis. On account of the intensive relations between the two countries, Turkey is a priority country with regard to promoting German. Accordingly, there is a long-term effort to promote the German language in Turkey through a comparatively strong presence of German intermediaries (the Central Agency for German Schools Abroad, the DAAD and the Goethe-Institut), through close cooperation with the Turkish Ministry of National Education, various higher education institutions and local school authorities, as well as through a wide range of funding mechanisms.
There are six German schools abroad operating in Turkey. Two of these schools, both located in Istanbul, rank among the country’s leading schools.The Orient-Institut Istanbul, an independent institute of the Max Weber Foundation, conducts research on Ottoman history and Turkish literature and linguistics.

The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) opened its Istanbul Department as early as 1929. It conducts research projects on subjects ranging from the prehistory of Anatolia and Thrace to the Ottoman period. The projects conducted by German archaeologists have been – and still are – of paramount importance for archaeological research in Turkey. DAI researchers are leading the excavation efforts at the major archaeological sites of Pergamon (Bergama), Hattusa, Miletus and Didyma and are collaborating with Turkish colleagues at the excavation site of Göbekli Tepe, near the city of Şanlıurfa.

This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.

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