Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Germany on November 1 and 2 to mark the 50th anniversary of a German-Turkish agreement on guest workers.
Erdogan turned what was supposed to be a friendly photo opportunity into a platform from which to launch a fresh tirade against Berlin for a long list of perceived slights and shortcomings in its treatment of the estimated 3.5 million Turkish immigrants who now live in Germany.
Erdogan said Germany's insistence that immigrants who want to live in Germany must learn the German language is "against human rights." He also demanded that Berlin grant German citizenship to Turkish immigrants regardless of the efforts they make to integrate into German society.
For good measure, Erdogan accused Germany of being "an accessory" to the terror campaign launched by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey. He also blamed Germany for derailing Turkey's decades-long bid to join the European Union.
Adding to the controversy, a group of German scientists, politicians and human rights activists greeted Erdogan's visit to Germany by filing a war crimes complaint against the Turkish prime minister and nine other senior Turkish political and military officials.
The complaint, filed with the Federal Prosecutor's Office in the south-western German city of Karlsruhe on November 2, is based on 2002 "universal jurisdiction" legislation, which gives German courts the right to prosecute human rights violations committed anywhere in the world.
The lawsuit accuses Erdogan and the others for ten acts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture and the use of chemical weapons in connection with Turkish military operations against Kurdish rebels since 2003.
German President Christian Wulff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had invited Erdogan to attend a ceremony commemorating the October 31, 1961 labor recruitment agreement between West Germany and Turkey which has prompted millions of Turkish guest workers flock to Germany over the past 50 years.
But that agreement also marks the beginning of Germany's current problems with Muslim immigration.
Back in 1961, West Germany's post-World War II economy was booming and similar treaties with Greece, Italy and Spain were insufficient to supply Germany's seemingly endless demand for labor. By the end of 1969, more than one million Turkish "guest workers" had arrived in Germany to work in the "host country's" industrial zones.
The initial idea was that the Turkish laborers would return home after a period of two years, but the so-called "rotation clause" was removed from the German-Turkish treaty in 1964, partly after pressure from sectors of German industry who did not want to pay the costs of constantly training new workers. The predictable result was that many Turks never returned home.
Today, the Turkish population in Germany has mushroomed; Turks now constitute the largest ethnic minority group. Demographers expect that the Turkish population in Germany will increase exponentially in coming decades, thanks largely to both a high birth rate and Germany's continuing high demand for foreign workers.
Germany's demand for foreign labor is being fuelled by a demographic crisis, in which the German population is not only ageing, but also shrinking at a rapid pace. According to recent projections by the German Federal Statistics Office, Germany's current population of 82 million, the largest in the European Union, is set to decline by as much as 20%, to 65 million, over the next five decades. At the same time, 34% of the population will be older than 65 and 14% will be 80 or more by 2060, up from 20% and 5% respectively in 2009.
The twin challenges of depopulation and aging will have major consequences for the financial sustainability of Germany's cradle-to-grave social security system. The number of pensioners, for example, that will have to be supported by working-age people could almost double by 2060, according to the Federal Statistics Office. While 100 people of working age between 20 and 65 had to provide the pensions for 34 retired people in 2009, they will have to generate income for between 63 and 67 pensioners in 2060.
This implies that in the future, Germany will become more, not less, dependent on immigrants. Further, Turks will continue to be a major source of labor, especially considering that the birth rate among Turkish immigrants in Germany is 2.4, nearly double that of the native German population (which at 1.38 is far below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman). If these numbers hold, demographers predict that the number of native Germans will be cut in half in around six generations, while the number of Muslim immigrants in Germany is forecast to more than quadruple during that same period.
Not surprisingly, Germans are apprehensive about the future; their anxiety is fuelling a national debate about Muslim immigration and integration, as well as the role of Islam in Germany. Germans are especially concerned about the presence in the country of millions of non-integrated Muslims.
In a landmark speech in October 2010, Merkel conceded that Germany's efforts to build a post-war multicultural society have "failed utterly." She said: "We are a country which at the beginning of the 1960s actually brought [Muslim] guest workers to Germany. Now they live with us and we lied to ourselves for a while, saying that they will not stay and that they will have disappeared again one day. That is not the reality. This multicultural approach -- saying that we simply live side by side and are happy about each other -- this approach has failed, failed utterly."
Faced with the reality that more than one million immigrants who live in Germany cannot speak any German at all, the government recently began pushing for the children of non-German-speaking parents to develop better German language skills.
This has angered Erdogan, who during an earlier visit to Germany in February 2011 urged Turkish immigrants to teach their children to learn to read and write Turkish before German. Speaking to a crowd of more than 10,000 immigrants waving Turkish flags and shouting "Turkey is Great!" in the German industrial city of Düsseldorf, Erdogan said: "We are against assimilation. No one should be able to rip us away from our culture and civilization."
During a similar visit to Cologne in February 2008, Erdogan told a crowd of more than 20,000 Turkish immigrants that "assimilation is a crime against humanity" and he urged them to resist assimilation into the West. In March 2010, Erdogan called on Germany open Turkish-language grade schools and high schools.
Reaction in Germany to Erdogan's latest rhetoric has been negative.
The center-right newspaper Die Welt, in an opinion article entitled "Erdogan's Efforts to Divide are Tactless" wrote that the Turkish prime minister was engaging in a "pure culture war" with his "once a Turk, always a Turk" oratory. The paper says: "Each of his state visits is more like those of a king visiting the colonies. Erdogan believes he is the patron of all three million Turks in Germany, as if they belonged to him. This is paternalistic and yes, even non-democratic and nationalist."
The respected newspaper Die Zeit, in an article entitled, "Erdogan: A Curse for Germany's Turks," wrote: "The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is a disaster for the Turks in Germany. Once again, Erdogan used his visit to Germany to achieve his national populist aims. Again, it went to the Turkish language: children should first learn Turkish, then German. Of course, it is desirable that children with Turkish roots learn Turkish. The problem of the Turkish educational failures lies not in their first language, but in poor mastery of both languages. Hundreds of thousands of children cannot adequately speak either Turkish or German."
The newspaper says Erdogan's use of inflammatory rhetoric all boils down to domestic politics. Die Zeit writes: "Erdogan is not really interested in the fate of Turkish immigrants and their children. His nationalist show is all about playing with the feelings and the frustrations of German Turks. It is a pose which he considers promising: Erdogan wants to tap into the angry Turkish citizen. Why does he want dual citizenship? So that he can campaign for votes in Germany and thereby gain significant percentages among voters abroad. Erdogan's embarrassing nationalistic pomp makes Turkey's accession to the EU far less likely."
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.