Europe-Turkey rift widens

A serious diplomatic crisis is unfolding between some European countries and Turkey after the Netherlands banned Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, from entering the country to speak in Rotterdam for Turkish émigré voters ahead of a April 16 constitutional referendum.

The Netherlands announced that it would also close its land border to any crossings by Turkish politicians.

Austria and Switzerland have also canceled some planned Turkish rallies in their countries, while Germany’s local authorities withdrew permission over the use of the venues for pre-arranged rallies in support of the upcoming referendum.

Turkey’s first reaction to the controversial ban on rallies of Turkish politicians has been to compare such moves to “Nazi-era practices,” while Cavusoglu accused Dutch authorities of treating Turkish citizens in their country like “captives.”

“The Netherlands should now think about how their planes will land in Turkey,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a rally in Istanbul. “They are Nazi remnants, they are fascists. Our people will disrupt your conspiracy on 16th April.”

As a retaliation of withdrawing landing rights for its foreign minister, Turkey has also threatened the Dutch government with harsh economic and political sanctions. Cavusoglu also implied that Turkey might realign with Russia in world politics if “Europe keeps behaving like a boss.”

Erhan Akdemir, a professor of international relations at Anadolu University, said the diplomatic crisis mainly derives from the slowdown in democratic reforms in Turkey, which was closely followed by Europe.

“As a reaction to the decline in personal freedoms, rule of law, separation of powers, countries of Europe like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and France have begun to raise their voices,” Akdemir told Arab News.

Akdemir also noted that the Turkish government is aware that it can easily convert a tough stance abroad into votes in Turkey, while expat votes are determinant in the outcome of the referendum.

“But this is a lose-lose scenario for both sides in economic, touristic, cultural terms. We already witnessed similar cases before in our relations with Egypt, Russia, Syria and Iraq,” he added.

Analysts note that the result of the April 16 referendum will determine the direction that such crises will take in the upcoming period.

“If the yes votes win, Turkey will get into a comprehensive foreign policy transformation, which will surely involve ties with Europe,” Akdemir said.

The Netherlands Embassy in Riyadh could not be reached for comment late Saturday.

Netherlands insists that Turkey’s threats have made impossible all possible options for a reasonable solution that would respect national rules on public demonstrations.

In a personal note posted on his Facebook account, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that Turkish émigrés residing in Netherlands would be able to vote in the referendum. However, gatherings in the country have the risk to contribute to tensions in the society and to harm public order and safety.

“This is against our friendship. Please get your nose out of our internal affairs,” said Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.

The Turkish government views such efforts by Netherlands as a systematic plan of a “deep state” to pressure Turkish expats to vote against constitutional changes that will grant wide-ranging powers to the Turkish president and undermine separation of powers if it passes.

In an attempt to bypass the ban, Fatma Betul Kaya, Turkey’s family and social policies minister, announced that she will go to Rotterdam by road to meet Turkish expats.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is committed to preventing political tensions in Turkey spreading onto German soil. Germany also got its share from Erdogan’s anger, who compared it last week with Nazi Germany.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition party CHP’s leader, gave his unconditional support to Turkish government, saying that Turkey has a right to use sanctions.

“A foreign minister who represents Turkey can go and speak everywhere he wants. The Dutch decision is unacceptable,” Kilicdaroglu said on his Twitter account.

Out of 5 million Turkish émigrés in Europe, around 2.8 million live in Germany and half a million reside in the Netherlands. Turkish European residents will cast their votes at consulates between March 27 and April 9.

Any deepening of the row between Ankara and some major European capitals will also have repercussions over tourism and economic ties between the countries. Turkey hosts about 1 million Dutch and about 6 million German tourists. Germany is Turkey’s biggest trade partner. Turkey and Germany also cooperate on the Syrian refugee crisis.

According to a poll conducted by Turkey’s MetroPoll in November 2016, 64.5 percent of Turks consider Germany a foe of Turkey.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of German Marshall Fund of the US, said that the decisions by the German and Dutch authorities to prevent political meetings by Turkish government officials is an effort to appease the populist voters ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Unluhisarcikli argued that appeasement is not a wise policy against populism as populist parties can always raise the bar.

Unluhisarcikli warned that appeasement of anti-Turkish populism in Europe will boost populism in Turkey.

“Populism breeds populism,” he added.