German Ambassador to Martin Erdmann (L), his spouse Marion Erdmann (C) and Hürriyet Daily News Ankara Chief Serkan Demirtaş (R) walk together inside of the embassy complex in Ankara.
Turkey can lure more businesses and investments in the post-coronavirus world due to the further geographical diversification of the international production locations of German companies, German Ambassador to Turkey Martin Erdmann has said, citing Turkey’s well-educated labor force combined with modern infrastructure as the most important assets for a successful future.
After a five-year service in the Turkish capital, outgoing German Ambassador Erdmann and his wife Marion gave a farewell interview to the Hürriyet Daily News to make a general assessment on the German-Turkish relations and about their emotions on Turkey.
You are leaving Turkey after a five-year service. How would you characterize your term in Ankara as you are also about to retire from diplomatic service?
The past five years have been extremely eventful. During this period Turkey has gone through and produced more historical moments than a country can normally absorb. It is impossible to mention all of these historical moments in the context of this interview.
But let me mention as one outstanding example: The coup attempt of July 15 which fortunately failed. My wife and myself, we have spent this night at our residence which is located only 150 meters of air distance from parliament. During the course of many hours we were not aware of what was going on. A few days after the coup attempt a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly gave me a tour of the parliament building that was heavily destroyed. The damage was enormous. This tragedy with so many victims and injured people has shaken and shocked my wife and myself to the core. We will never forget this terrible night of the coup attempt.
I remember vividly numerous inspiring and fruitful conversations with representatives of political and public life in Turkey across the board, representatives of the political, economic, cultural areas, the media as well as incidental encounters with many individuals from around the country. I highly enjoyed my many travels throughout Turkey which provided me with deep insights into the cultural riches and the manifold beautiful landscapes. Altogether these five years have been a great treasure of experience both professionally and personally. I was privileged to represent Germany during these years in the Republic of Turkey.
In light of your experience, how do you observe Turkey’s place in the world and its relations with the rest of the world?
From a global perspective, Turkey is located in one of the most exposed and complicated geopolitical regions of the world. Neighbors such as Syria, Iran and Iraq on the one hand, as well as Turkey being an accession candidate to the European Union on the other hand, confront Turkey with enormous challenges in order to cope with this geopolitical location. Let me remind you in this context of the fact that Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees as a single country in the whole world.
However, this geographical position of Turkey also represents a great opportunity, namely at the crossroads of north and south, east and west. In addition, Turkey holds another asset: A well-educated labor force combined with modern infrastructure, both represent outstanding starting points for a very successful future.
‘Our ties unique and second to none’In the same period, the Turkish-German ties have also been recorded as always bumpy, sometimes stormy. In one interview in 2018, you said the two countries have left the Ice Age behind. How would you define the current state of ties?
The Turkish-German ties are unique and second to none in the whole world: There are no other two countries as geographically remote and originating culturally from two different traditions like Germany and Turkey which are at the same time closely interwoven with each other to an extent that is unique in the world. The human bridge, the economic linkage, yes: the mutual interdependency as well as the cultural ties are unique.
The incidental stormy periods including the political ice age in our bilateral relations from mid-2016 until early 2018 are resulting from this closeness. Why? Large parts of the policy agenda of both of our two countries is mirrored in real time by the policy agenda of the other country. I remember many occasions when I got caught as the German Ambassador between the diverging views from either side.
As far as I remember, you have been summoned by the Foreign Ministry at least 20 times in a very short period of time. Do you still hold the record?
My analyses with regard to the many summons is based on the same consideration, namely the very close ties between our two countries. As events in Turkey are continuously reflected in the German newsrooms and vice-versa, these mutual reflections of each other’s day to day events can easily lead to misunderstandings and false perceptions. To be summoned as the Ambassador provides an opportunity to discuss these misperceptions.
And I can assure you while I was summoned that my colleagues in the Turkish Foreign Ministry have always treated me in a polite and forthcoming manner. In order to ease the situation, I took with me what we call the “Embassy‘s chocolate” which we often use as a token of our esteem for the interlocutor. I was always offered a friendly cup of tea or Turkish mocca. This created a positive atmosphere.
‘More than 7,000 German companies’
What does your five-year review show in terms of economic ties, trade bonds, investments?
The Republic of Turkey clearly is part and parcel of the extended value chain of the German industry and a significant production site. With regard to the unique advantage of the geographical location of Turkey the significance of this factor will increase even further once the corona pandemic is over.
Why? Because I would foresee a further geographical diversification of the international production locations of German companies abroad. In my contacts with the CEOs of German companies in Turkey – by the way most of them are of Turkish origin nowadays – I am assured of the high level of satisfaction and esteem with regard to production conditions for more than 7,000 German companies and businesses in Turkey.
The major part of goods produced by German companies in Turkey is exported abroad.
Germany’s agenda as EU term president
Let’s also talk about the future. As of July 1, Germany will assume the EU Presidency. How do you think your presidency can lead to a change with regard to the Turkish accession process? And, specifically, on the Customs Union, do you think a go-ahead for negotiations can come out?
Contrary to earlier expectations and intentions of the German EU Presidency the most important challenge will be to cope with the pandemic and its political, financial and economic consequences. In this respect the EU has to do a broad range of homework. And let us not forget about Brexit that is entering a critical phase in the second half of 2020.
With regard to the Customs Union: Created in 1996, some 25 years ago, it represents a big success story. However, it has become a bit rusty over time. In other words: Before looking beyond the horizon, we first have to scrape off the rust jointly and need to polish the existing Customs Union and make it shine again.
Once this process is mastered successfully, we should then move on and discuss the issue of modernizing the Customs Union. The agenda of a possible modernization of the Customs Union would be highly ambitious: Agriculture, services and public procurement are extremely hard nuts to crack. And, after the standstill of the EU-Turkey accession negotiations in recent years we need to learn again how to walk jointly on the playing field.
‘Turkey touched us profoundly’
Finally, Mr. Ambassador, what would be your message to the Turkish people? What does Turkey mean to you and your wife? You have travelled almost all over Turkey and met people from all walks of life. Which emotions are you taking back home?
Ambassador Erdmann: The past five years in Turkey were a defining period for us both professionally and personally.
Madame Erdmann: I will leave Turkey with a different mindset than the one in 2015 when I arrived. I was rewarded with marvelous encounters both with people and places visited, encounters that touched me profoundly and of which I will cherish a heartfelt memory. We will take with us the sentiments and emotions of a profound bond with and attachment to our host country Turkey, combined with a deep gratitude for the years that we spent here and for all we learned and experienced. Long live the Turkish-German friendship!