As Turkey is heading for a referendum on granting the head of state new powers on April 16, its relations with some EU countries are getting more and more strained. Another proof of this is tension between the Netherlands and Ankara caused by a ban on the entry of two Turkish ministers. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and, later, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, Minister for Family and Social Policies, were barred from meeting their compatriots in Rotterdam.
The Turkish politicians were going to persuade the Turkish citizens residing in the Netherlands to support the constitutional amendments that will drastically increase presidential powers. There are almost 400,000 ethnic Turks in the Netherlands. On its part, the Dutch government explained that it had banned the entry for fear of the consequences.
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan said the Netherlands would pay a high price for not allowing the two Turkish ministers to enter the country. He accused Western countries of Islamophobia and demanded that international organizations impose sanctions on the Netherlands. “I said I thought Nazism was over, but I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West,” he said. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Sunday night that what had happened was a “diplomatic scandal” and promised that Ankara would give a resolute response to an “inadmissible attitude” to its ministers, dpa reports quoting the Turkish media.
Ankara sent two protest notes to the Netherlands over restrictions on the Turkish ministers and a disproportional use of force against the Turkish diaspora.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte has urged Erdogan to apologize for comparing the Dutch with the Nazis. The premier said that the Turkish president’s words were unacceptable and his country would take appropriate measures if Turkey did not change its behavior.
HOW THE CONFLICT DEVELOPED
Shortly before, the governments of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland had also barred Turkish officials from speaking to the Turkish citizens who live in these countries. Following this, Erdogan accused Germany of applying Nazi methods, while Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu called the Netherlands the “capital of fascism.” Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen postponed a planned meeting with his Turkish counterpart. He said democratic principles were under great pressure in Turkey.
Conversely, the authorities of Metz, France, allowed a Turkish rally, with the French foreign minister asking Turkey to avoid provocations. A Turkish minister was also to address a rally of Erdogan’s followers in Sweden on Sunday, but it was canceled for security reasons. However, Sweden’s foreign ministry announced that this decision had been made by the owner of the stadium that was to host the rally and it could be held at a different place.
Turkey plans to hold a referendum on the constitutional amendments that will turn Turkey from a parliamentary into a presidential republic. If adopted, the amendments will grant the president such new powers as to form the cabinet, draw up the budget, select most of the judges, and approve laws. The president will be also authorized to impose a state of emergency and dissolve the Majlis.
“AT THIS STAGE, TURKEY’S EUROPEAN INTEGRATION FILE IS CLOSED”
The Turkish side’s demands to the Netherlands are more than strange.
Firstly, how can a country decide what to hold on the territory of another state? As a Ukrainian diplomat explained to The Day off the record, there was a similar situation with respect to our country, when the Netherlands was holding a referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. “We were told in the clear: sorry, but it is our internal affair to hold a referendum and there must be no official Ukrainian bodies here,” our interlocutor said.
In his words, the Dutch government considers it inadmissible to hold a referendum among the Turks who are citizens of the Netherlands and have Dutch passports. Dual citizenship does not legally exist in the Netherlands. If one wants to receive a Dutch passport, he or she must present a document on waiving the previous citizenship.
Secondly, all political parties in the Netherlands are taking the same approach to the referendum in Turkey. They believe it is an attempt to keep the current president firmly in power. The only party that disagrees to this is Denk, a party of Dutch Turks.
Thirdly, almost all the parties have condemned the actions of Turkey. In connection with the recent events, the Denk party is expected to win the majority of Turkish votes in the March 15 elections.
At the same time, the diplomat thinks these events will add uncertainty to the parliamentary elections’ results. On the other hand, it is quite clear that there will be no dramatic events in these elections. The Turks have never been the followers of Geert Wilders who has been waging a campaign under anti-Islamic slogans. Premier Rutte is taking a firm stand in these elections. He said among other things that the Netherlands would like to be a wiser side in this dispute with Turkey and resolve this problem by way of negotiations. In this context, experts point out that Turkey’s European integration file is closed at this stage.
The interlocutor pointed out that the Dutch are taking a normal attitude to the minorities, they are tolerant. In his words, Premier Rutte made it clear in a recent article: “Those who do not want to live by normal standards and violate our laws, please leave this country. We will not delay you. And this applies not to the minorities but to those who cannot understand it.” Incidentally, the mayor of Rotterdam, where there were clashes between the Turks and the police, is a Morocco-born Muslim. But he took a resolute stand: order is order, and we will do what we deem necessary.
“THERE WAS A VERY GRAVE RISK OF INCREASED TENSION’’
Sijbren de JONG, strategic analyst, Hague Center for Strategic Studies:
“Our politicians were right not to allow the ministers to wage a campaign on Turkey’s internal issues. The Turkish ministers had no intention at all to visit the Netherlands as Turkish officials. Migration, ethnicity, Dutch identity, etc., are moot points in our elections. There was a very grave risk of increased tension. Therefore, the Dutch government was right to try to avert this. The Turks were urged to come to those rallies through the social media. The Turkish government sought a confrontation and threatened to impose harsh political and economic sanctions on us if we ban the entry of its representatives. It’s not the way to settle a dispute. Our government had no option but to do the way it did. Besides, if the Turkish government had been allowed to do what it planned, this would have given Wilders’ party PVV grounds to accuse our party of inaction and really fuel a crisis.
“The government’s resolute actions will not let Wilders reap the fruits of this situation. Moreover, the public has largely backed the government’s actions.”
“ERDOGAN IS TRYING TO POSITION HIMSELF AS A STRONG LEADER”
Oleksandr BOHOMOLOV, president, Center for Middle Eastern Studies:
“It is part of a referendum campaign. Erdogan is trying to position himself as a strong leader. All Turkey can do to avenge oneself on the Netherlands and undo the moral damage Ankara has allegedly sustained is to create bigger problems for Europe in the resolution of the refugee crisis. This issue is Turkey’s key lever in its relations with the EU. The Turks want to receive an essential concession from the European Union, as far as visa-free treatment is concerned. Of course, they will not spoil their relations with the EU altogether. In other words, Turkey’s actions can be viewed as part of the referendum campaign. The point is that the Turkish government is trying to influence the course of the referendum vote. On the other hand, this will play in favor of the far right parties in the Netherlands itself.”