Dr. Klaus Jürgens is a German journalist and political analyst from Britain who closely watches and extensively writes about Turkish Foreign Policy and Türkiye’s relations with the Western countries. Jürgens regularly appears on TRT World and shares his analyses and opinions with the Turkish public and international audiences.
You can follow his works and interviews from his Twitter account: https://twitter.com/KlausJurgens
Ozan Örmeci: Mr. Klaus Jürgens, thank you for the opportunity. Could you please tell us more about your professional career and your interest in Turkish Politics and Turkish Foreign Policy as academic fields?
Klaus Jürgens: My interest in all things; Turkish Foreign Policy and Turkish Politics in general started via a deviation, so to speak. I had been active in German and European non-governmental organisations, respectively, including being the chairperson of a European wide youth and student movement platform fully financed by the European Commission in Brussels. This involvement, paired with attending training courses for youth leaders at the site of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, were the catalyst for my wish to one day either get involved in ‘adult’ politics myself, or alternatively lecture and write about politics. Always considering European enlargement as a positive development and having had the pleasure of knowing many people with Turkish background, it became clear after 1999 that especially one country caught my researcher’s eye: the Republic of Türkiye (Turkey). To make this point even more frank, I was never a supporter of a ‘Superstate Europe’, but preferred a multicultural, multifaith, socially inclusive Europe and Türkiye absolutely has her place in that ‘House Europe’ as many of my generation referred to as the post-Maastricht European Union.
The logic continuation was eventually starting to lecture about EU Law for Business Administration and designing Türkiye’s first ever university course syllabus teaching about Türkiye’s Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME) in cross-border ventures focusing on relations with Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Certainly, having obtained a post-graduate degree from London School of Economics (LSE) in the domain of Government facilitated this venture to a great extent. And where business goes first, foreign and international relations, respectively, often follow in their footsteps hence a link between cross-border strategic partnerships in both dimensions became my focus, by now for well over the past two decades.
More recently, running my own media representation company in London and working as a political analyst, plus communications strategist focusing on Türkiye. Then, the Republic of Türkiye Directorate of Communications accepted me as a panellist related to various topics; for example the UN Reform or relations with NATO both in Türkiye and abroad, most recently in Stockholm. Besides, honoured to regularly being featured on TRT World television both in Istanbul and from time to time in London, too. What’s more, contributing to NEX24 online news platform in Germany and TRT Germany in Berlin. New academic analysis soon to be published in Insight Türkiye about the nation’s foreign policies featuring a close look at EU accession, UK bilateral relations, and the United Nations reform.
Ozan Örmeci: Türkiye is often criticized in the Western press and academia due to its alleged authoritarian transformation. It is a fact that the degree of civil liberties and political freedoms are decreased in recent years. However, there could be some outside factors strengthening this trend rather than President Erdoğan and his government’s preferences. In that sense, how do you consider Türkiye’s current political regime? What we can -as Turkish citizens- do to improve the quality of democracy in our country?
Klaus Jürgens: Having witnessed Türkiye’s stellar rise from a country belittled by so-called allies and friends to a proud yet never selfish nation employing a 360-degree foreign policy is a success story. I often ask myself, how come that studied men and women living abroad and active in the domains of politics, business, and media continue to portray modern Türkiye as an authoritarian state?
You asked about what you as Turkish citizens can do and said with all due respect and modesty, reforming a nation and embarking on the path towards full-fledged democracy must be considered as work in progress, there is no finite version of democracy as countries, people, attitudes change over time.
My suggestion: figuratively speaking, continue on your path to keep reaching for the stars with your feet solidly on the ground. In other words, your nation reformed itself from A to Z since early in 2003, individual freedoms were introduced, military tutelage abolished, the PKK issue addressed, infrastructure projects were implemented in all four corners of the country, world class health service became the order of the day, and that further list would fill quite some book chapters by itself.
The Turkish people are a proud nation and for so many decades after the Second World War, all this pride was taken away first by self-styled ‘elites’ in the country, and then by tutelage-inspired foreign actors including the United States of America. Modern Türkiye is no longer hostage to the fake Westernization project of those past fake elites.
Ozan Örmeci: Germany is the most important partner of Türkiye in Europe. Economic and social relations are very intense and well developed and political relations seem less problematic compared to Turkish-French or Turkish-Greek relations. What is your opinion about the perception of Türkiye in Germany? What could be the ideal model of relationship between Türkiye and Germany as well as Türkiye and the European Union?
Klaus Jürgens: Unfortunately, and over the past decade even German mainstream media reverted to Türkiye-bashing. The good news is, however, that neither the business community nor the ‘ordinary’ men and women on the street buy into that ill-fated hate speech. Same as in other countries from the moment onwards that modern Türkiye declared a 360-degree foreign policy based on expertise and political clout some circles started to panic; paraphrased, who is afraid of a democratic and successful Türkiye highly respected on the global stage?
The difference between your examples France and Greece is that over there even elected office holders seem to wake up in the morning and search for which negative statement they can make today about Türkiye. In Germany too, there are anti-Türkiye undercurrents fuelled by FETÖ and PKK cells on the ground, but seldom would leading politicians (at least not of the current government) speak up against Türkiye in that biased manner found elsewhere.
Another good news: step by step, the number of Türkiye-bashers in Europe is dwindling – think ever improving bilateral relations between Rome and Ankara or consider London and Ankara.
You asked for a kind of model – well here are my thoughts: as modern Türkiye and by now for many decades turned herself from a provider of much needed post-Second World War labour forces in Europe, mostly Germany, but even as far as Australia, into a leading globally recognized economic powerhouse; thus, reversing trends one hundred percent, any successful bilateral relations should be based on an ‘seeing eye to eye’- approach. Much needs to be done, but I still think that more mutually beneficial German-Turkish relations are the only viable blueprint for long-lasting future of EU-Türkiye relations.
Berlin should actually pave the way for closer Türkiye-EU relations and agreeing on the EU-wide visa-liberalization should be one such urgent, step plus the modernization of the Customs Union.
Ozan Örmeci: Germany’s new coalition government and Prime Minister Olaf Scholz found themselves in the midst of a war and political crisis due to Russian invasion of Ukraine. This led to some serious political consequences in Germany such as expanding military expenses substantially and trying to cut all relations with Moscow. Do you think German government could achieve its energy dependency without Russian support in the coming years?
Klaus Jürgens: Foreign observers of modern German politics often struggle to coming to terms with Berlin’s delicate balancing act with regards to contacts with Moscow. In order to understand today’s hesitations to cut all links and ties with Russia due to the war situation in Ukraine, one must travel back in time. On the one hand, German political elites were split between favouring a clear transatlantic course, that is putting good relations with Washington well ahead of any attempts of achieving the same towards Moscow, whilst on the other hand a very outspoken ‘Moscow faction’ became ever more relevant in decision-making. It would be too easy to allocate the former position to conservative circles and leaving the latter earmarked for the Left. As example, post-war Social Democracy in Germany was divided on exactly that same ideological fault lines. Never accepting two Germanys, as a fact, it nevertheless became obvious that any attempts at establishing more humanitarian relations between East Berlin and Bonn needed to go via Moscow, with similar considerations applied to contacts with other satellites of the past Soviet Empire.
Before being elected to higher offices, both former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and current Chancellor Olaf Scholz were actively involved in what was labelled All European Youth and Student Cooperation, with frequent young party member’s delegation visiting East Berlin, Moscow, Prague, and/or Budapest. The order of the day was not automatically agreeing to whatever demands originated from the side of Washington and trying to allow Germany finding her own foreign policy-making formula, including becoming a bridge between West and East.
The 1976 general elections with Helmut Schmidt as the victor were interpreted as indicator of the transatlantic circles coming out on top, but as the SPD was a political party often likened to a super-tanker impossible to change direction in a minute, previous more Moscow inclined tendencies had never been put aside. During the tough years on the opposition banks, the SPD established close relations with the newly emerged Green Party and eventually managed to continue on a more Moscow-interested line – soon to be Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and later today’s office holder Olaf Scholz underlined this perfectly.
The public is equally divided often characterized as “Gespaltene Öffentlichkeit“, or divided/split public opinion (https://www.nzz.ch/international/ukraine-krise-warum-viele-deutsche-auf-putins-seite-stehen-ld.1666582?reduced=true). When the Ukraine War started, an absolute majority was in favour of sanctions and supporting Ukraine. The pro-Ukraine stance has not shifted except few voices in far-left political circles, but the question of whether to completely severe all ties with Russia is still a hot and controversial pick.
Can Germany become independent from Russian energy supplies? Technically speaking ‘yes’; figures speak for itself or in other words, from 55 % to zero. But it remains to be seen whether Russia could get back into the picture in the medium-term future. Neighbouring Austria is a case in point still relying on imports despite speaking up against the war in Ukraine. My assumption: price will be the ultimately decisive factor.
Can Germany in its delicate geopolitical position forever turn a cold shoulder vis-à-vis Moscow? I would not think so – there will be no world anytime soon without Moscow to be taken into consideration as an influential political actor.
Will the German public tolerate an ever-increasing amount for military expenditure faced with a substantial economic post-pandemic crisis? I would not think so and even conservative leaders think that way, let us remember the rift between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel on that issue.
Ozan Örmeci: Political leaders in Germany often serve longer than one term. In case of strong right-wing leaders such as Kohl and Merkel, it can take even more than a decade. So, what do you think about the performance of the current government and Germany’s political future after the 2025 federal elections?
Klaus Jürgens: My guess is that the “Ampel-Koalition“, the traffic light coalition, will actually survive. You mentioned the long-lasting Conservative leader’s success stories, but let us not forget that in many fellow European nations left-wing politicians achieved exactly the same long time in office, François Mitterrand as a key example from France.
The German electorate mostly shies away from experiments at the ballot box – and ever more so in troubling times. My modest assumption: another coalition with the Social Democrats in a certain form of leading actor, by all means in another Grand Coalition as much as the German electorate dislikes this formula.
My greatest worry is, however, the negative impression the current German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock leaves in the international arena which brings me to a point I make quite often: Professor Christopher Hill back in 2003 argued that foreign policies should have a certain public opinion dimension, will say governments should take public opinion much more into account when devising international relations. The current FM and all her blunders will make the German electorate think twice before accepting her again as FM in whatever new coalition government will be formed in 2025.
Ozan Örmeci: Could you please suggest us some gifted people you follow to better understand Turkish Politics and Turkish Foreign Policy?
Klaus Jürgens: Over the years, I had the pleasure to meet with many experts and scholars as well as journalists who chose Türkiye’s foreign relations as their major academic interest. This includes personalities both from within Türkiye and from abroad:
– Dr. Valeria Giannotta, Rome, Director Türkiye Observatory, CeSPI, and in charge of commenting about relations between Türkiye and Italy,
– Prof. Paolo von Schirach, Washington, President Global Policy Institute BAY University, and a frequent guest speaker on Türkiye-US and transatlantic relations in general,
– Yönet C. Tezel, Stockholm, Ambassador of the Republic of Türkiye,
– Ozan Ceyhun, Vienna, Ambassador of the Republic of Türkiye,
– Faruk Kaymakcı, Brussels, Ambassador of the Republic of Türkiye to the European Union,
– Dr. Tarek Cherkaoui, Istanbul, Manager TRT World Research Centre,
– Yusuf Erim, Istanbul, Editor at Large TRT World.
Thank you very much for your interest in my reflections, truly appreciated. All success with your upcoming publication(s), too
Ozan Örmeci: Thank you very much for your precious time. We wish you all the best in your studies and we hope to see you soon in the “Turkish-American Relations in the 21st Century” conference to be hold at Istanbul Aydın University.