On Turkey-EU relations and the future of the EU with Joschka Fischer

Former German Foreign Minister and Project Syndicate author Joschka Fischer spoke with Spektrum.

We discussed Turkey-EU relations, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the European Union's changing security policies with Joschka Fischer, who served as Germany's Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor between 1998 and 2005, and was the leader of the German Green Party for nearly 20 years.

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If the pro-democratic opposition alliance wins the election on the 14th of May, what would be its effects on Turkey-European Union relations? Do you think that there will be a quick reparation?

I don’t want to intervene in Turkish elections. I am a friend of Turkey and a democrat. I accept democratic free and fair elections. The rest is at the hands of Turkish political parties.

The Turkish opposition is very decisive to revise the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU which was signed in 2016, and send back refugees because of increasing discontent. What would be the EU’s strategy about the migration problem between the two sides and how would the agreement be revised?

We have to negotiate the deal if there is a need, and there is a need. Both sides are under a severe pressure, not only the Turkish side. Unfortunately, refugees is not an issue which is popular, in Turkey nor in Europe. I must say that Turkey has done a lot and we appreciate it. So if there is a need for a renegotiation, it should be done.

It needs no imagination that the terrible consequences of the earthquake in both Turkey and Northern Syria will create new refugees. This humanitarian catastrophe may mean we have to act together.

How do you evaluate Turkey's foreign policy strategy in the process that started with Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Do you think Turkey is pursuing a 'neutral' foreign policy as stated in official discourse? How should Turkey's stance and strategy be against Russia?

Turkey was very helpful in procurement of the extremely important grain deal. This was very important especially for countries in Africa and the Middle East. I can't believe that Turkey is neutral. Knowing the Turkish history, invasion of Crimea by the Russian Empire was very close to the current situation. Turkey is a member of NATO and must have a clear position. I think the elections can only improve that.

Turkey claims that its security concerns are not shared by some EU and NATO members. Do you agree with this claim? What should be the EU and NATO's stance about Turkey’s concerns?

First of all, Turkey’s concerns about Northern Syria is a NATO issue. Secondly, I think in an alliance you can sit together and talk about everything. I don’t see that Turkey’s security interests are not accepted, I would reject it. Everybody understands the security concerns of Turkey, especially related to the Kurds.

On the other side, you have to see the humanitarian disaster developing in Norhern Syria for a long time. Syria is a mess but nobody inside NATO or EU is in favor of an independent Kurdistan, nobody. I think the Turkish security interests, which are well understood, are questioned. But the humanitarian catastphory there is a serious challenge for all of us. It's highly complicated but this means you have sit down and talk.

You said in your speech at the Izmır Economy Congress, that we have to focus on concrete areas of cooperation and disregard missed opportunities. What are the possible cooperation areas between Turkey and the EU?

We have strong economic, scientific interests and cooperation. Look at this beautiful city, Izmir. You have a lot of foreign investment in here from Germany, EU and the US. It moves in a direction which is very promising. This is the way we have to continue to move on.

There is an important debate inside of the EU about developing their own security capabilities and create their own security umbrella. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is a prominent figure in this debate. Furthermore, Germany decided to boost its security expenditures to 100 billions of dollars annually, and this policy change is seen as “The return of Germany as a geopolitical power”. What is your take on these debates, and how do you analyze Germany’s decision to boost its military expenditures?

We have to increase our military expenditures, there is no question about that. I have been in favor of that for a long time. Because we could not defend ourselves and this must change. On the otherside, you have mentioned that "Should the EU have its own security umbrella?", wait and see. Almost all the EU members with the exception of Austria, Cyprus and Malta will be NATO members. I don’t understand Turkey’s position on blocking the entrance of Sweden to NATO. For me, this makes no sense from the Turkish point of interest. I would give the advice, welcome them. And all these EU members in NATO, I would turn the table around and tell the EU "look, we are the same security family including Turkey". We have some work to do. Turkey’s position is very short-sided.

As for the German question, we didn’t want that change, it was imposed on us. In Germany, there was no serious political force who wanted to change it. But we must be able to defend ourselves. With the aggression of Putin against Ukraine, this ended definitely the post-WW2 period of Germany. And this will transform my country in a very substantial way because the Germans feel threatened by Russia. Germans think that we have to be able to defend ourselves. At that moment, we can't do that so we will turn around and will do that.

Europe is facing a two-handed security threat. The first one is the security threat especially from Russia, and the other one is a more economic, trade-related threat from China? What is and should be the EU strategy to challenge these threats?

These are different issues. We will try to differentiate with China because we should not make the same foolish mistakes as we did with Russia. The problem was not that we were trading with Russia, the mistake was our overdependency on energy supplies to Russia. We should not commit to the same mistakes twice. But this message has arrived in German business community and politics. So I see they are different situations and threats.

There are lots of analyses on that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can trigger China’s invasion of Taiwan. Do you agree with that?

I am not a fan of Xi Jinping and I am not convinced with his wisdom but I think the Chinese Communist Party is too clever to not do that. If you look at the biggest, most advanced technology in computer chips you have in Taiwan, TSMC is the biggest chip company. What is the biggest market for TMSC, China.

So, it makes no sense to invade Taiwan for China. By the way, the US will not sit idle and watch what is going on. It is about global world role of the US, you should not underestimate this factor, Chinese know that. So I don’t understand why all these war mongering rumors, they make no sense.

Fischer's pieces on Aposto

Joschka Fischer's articles published on Project Syndicate, an international media organization that provides commentary and analysis on global issues, are now available on Aposto. Below is the link to Fischer's articles we have published before:

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Abdullah Esin

Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü mezunudur. Dış politika, diplomasi ve politik ekonomi alanlarında araştırmalar yapmaktadır.


Weekly politics publication focusing on Turkey, city agendas, and international policy.