Column: Are Turkey and Europe severing ties?


The aversion between Turkey and European countries like Germany and the Netherlands is increasingly intensifying. This is because these countries cancelled Turkish authorities’ planned rally speeches that they would address Turkish nationals in Europe for security reasons. Germany announced that meetings had been cancelled on March 5, while the Netherlands did not allow the plane of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who planned to make a speech in Rotterdam, to land on March 11.

Turkey’s leading government authorities got furious and reacted against such measures. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defined the meeting ban in Germany as “a fascist practice that is remnant of the Nazi era.” He lambasted bans, saying that Dutch soldiers supported the massacre of Muslims in clashes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Harsh statements that came one after another have turned into a mutual squabble between Turkey and European countries.

Turkey will hold a referendum on a Constitutional amendment, which will strengthen presidential authorities, on April 16. The Turkish government will enable some 5.5 million Turkish nationals living abroad to vote the Constitutional change at its consulate buildings in each country from March 27 to April 9.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) had planned to call on Turkish nationals to vote for the Constitutional change by sending ministers and senior party managers to hold meetings in each country. However, things turned the other way around. Although Europe had opened its doors for Turkish politicians in previous elections, it did not allow them this time because of their own domestic elections – which Turkey wanted to turn into an advantage: Erdoğan and leading state authorities tried to arouse nationalist feelings of Turks living abroad through harsh and critical statements against European countries which imposed a meeting ban on Turkey. It seems the Turkish government plans to garner votes from many Turks living abroad by turning a bad experience into an advantage.

European countries have been astonished by Turkey’s harsh reaction, as they had never seen such strong reaction by then. Although they were in alert against Turkey and had concerns, Turkey stood firm. It is said that the ever-spreading Islamophobia is the reason that incited countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland to cancel Turkey’s meetings. However, the Turkish government argues that Europe is using xenophobia, which is rising in line with the growing populist nationalism in recent years, as an election tool.

In addition, Europeans are concerned about the spread of the conflict between nationalists and Kurds and between Erdoğan’s supporters and opponents in Turkey to their own countries. This tendency is striking especially in Germany, where many Kurdish Turkish nationals live. However, the silence of the German government on the PKK’s activities is making Ankara’s reaction increasingly harsher.

Ironically, the authorities of the President concern the Turkish people, who will vote for or against them in the upcoming referendum. Although ‘democratic principles’ in the West require Erdoğan and his supporters to promote their projects, they imposed strict and biased restraints on them. However, they are allowing Erdoğan’s opponents as Switzerland did on Sunday.

German authorities did not allow the AK Party, which received 50 percent of the votes from Turkish public, to hold meetings. However, it has been revealed that they officially allowed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and sponsoring associations to hold 12 meetings at indoor sport facilities and 68 meetings at hotels in 2016. It is even more striking that they allowed the PKK’s three meetings at indoor sport facilities and seven meetings at hotels in the first three months of 2017. Also, Germany allowed four associations sponsoring the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) to hold eight meetings at hotels in 2016 and four meetings in the first three months of 2017.

The problem is not about European authorities allowing Turks, who support or reject the Constitutional change, to express themselves – as it must be in democratic regimes – but presenting Turks as a nation which is not aware of its interests and capable of defending them. We have seen that Western racist movements are in the foreground of the escalating reaction against Erdoğan and his supporters. This shows the contrast of Western regimes and their attempts to impose political tutelage on Turks. This political tutelage is fueling the tension between Europe and Turkey in particular and between the West and Islamic world in general. Therefore, no one should avoid saying that what happened in the Netherlands is a scandal in the strictest sense.

Neither parties are stepping back, but the refugee deal which was signed with the EU last year is a strong trump card for Turkey. Erdoğan is maintaining his harsh rhetoric, iterating that he will revise the deal. While far-right powers which oppose to Islam and migrants in Europe are cutting a swath, what will be the consequence of showdown between Turkey and these countries? Domestic affairs are focusing on the delicate relation between the two parties.

It has been one year since Turkey and the EU signed the refugee deal on March 18, 2016. Brussels expressed its happiness with this deal one year ago and evaluated it as a big step taken in bilateral relations. However, Turkey-EU relations have almost come to a standstill at the moment. Europeans are thinking how much longer they can endure Erdoağan’s fair and harsh statements.

EU leaders are refraining from officially condemning Turkey’s accession process. The budget chapter which was opened in June 2016 has been in cold storage since last autumn. The EU did not condemn the July 15 coup attempt as harshly as it should have, and did not fulfil its promise to offer visa liberation for Turkish nationals (Turkey had already deserved visa liberation in the negotiation process. It was completely wrong the associate it with the refugee deal). Now, it seems the EU is not courageous enough to speak up against Erdoğan’s accusations much. Obviously, EU states do not want to play into the hands of Erdoğan, an Islamist conservative president who has turned his back on the EU, before seeing the results of the constitutional referendum. Certainly, they will face a completely different Erdoğan after April 16. Erdoğan has given the first signal of this change.

Europeans, especially Germans, are avoiding all kinds of behaviors which will jeopardize the refugee deal that they consider to be a success. A friend of mine, who is a Belgian diplomat, told me last week, “The Balkans way is closed. If Ankara opens vanes again, Greece will end up in a difficult situation again.”

Germany officially permits all activities and events of terror organizations – PKK, DHKP/C and Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) – on its own territory. Obviously, it is applying extraordinary security rules against possible attacks of such organizations.

The most striking thing is that Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) members, who almost turned the U.S. and Germany into a base after the July 15 coup attempt, have chosen Germany as a center to recover in Europe. More than 5,000 FETÖ members have obtained political residence permit in Germany over the past seven months. FETÖ members remained silent in Germany for a while after the coup attempt, but it has been disclosed that they were allowed to hold two meetings at hotels in Hamburg and Cologne in the first three months of 2017.


*Çetiner Çetin is a Turkish journalist. He wrote this article exclusively for the Middle East Observer