Ankara disappointed with lack of support
At the same time as the European Union’s foreign and security representative, Federica Mogherini, and Expansion Commissioner Johannes Hahn were making a joint statement over the tension between Turkey and the Netherlands on March 13, Turkish EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik was staging a press conference in Ankara.
The reporters asked him about the EU stance asking Turkey to tone down its statements against the Netherlands, together with an earlier statement by Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, who called on both of its members to avoid remarks that would escalate the situation.
Çelik did not hide his disappointment over those statements. Late on March 13, he called on the EU and the international community to stand by Turkey on its righteous position against the Netherlands on account of the fact that Dutch police denied Turkish Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam late on March 11 before escorting her to Germany in the early hours of March 12.
Recalling the European Convention on Human Rights, Çelik accused Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of falling into the trap of “racist” rival Geert Wilders, but did not raise the bar as much as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who called the Netherlands “the capital of fascism” in a speech he delivered to Turkish citizens in Paris late on March 12.
The remarks by the high-ranking EU officials came after the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch chargé d’affaires in Ankara to ask for a written apology. Even before the EU remarks, Rutte had already responded to Turkish demands ahead of his country’s March 15 general elections, saying an apology would not come and that he would not talk to the Turks under such threats. He said the reason for the crisis was his demand from Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım that Çavuşoğlu should postpone his visit to address Turkish citizens in the Netherlands until after the March 15 elections, but Çavuşoğlu decided to come earlier.
When the Dutch government canceled his fight, Kaya decided to enter the country from Germany by road and that was how the developments started to unfold, Rutte said. Kaya, meanwhile, explained in detail how she was brutally stopped by the police from entering the Turkish compound, how the Turkish consul was stopped from coming out of the building to reach her, how her bodyguards were detained and how she was made to leave the country as a persona non grata.
The row started the week before when the Turkish justice minister wanted to deliver a speech to Turkish citizens in Cologne to ask for a “yes” vote in the April 16 referendum in Turkey for a constitutional shift from a parliamentarian to an executive presidential system, as President Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting for years. The German government did not want Turkish government members conducting domestic political campaigns in Germany, but instead of hearing that officially, the Turkish ministers saw their permission canceled for reasons like “a dearth of parking spaces.” That agitated Ankara, and Çavuşoğlu delivered a speech to “yes” supporters in Hamburg on March 9 in contravention of a ban passed in Turkey’s legislature by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government in 2008 regarding domestic political activities in diplomatic compounds.
When he heard about the Rotterdam incident, Erdoğan was furious. He said the Netherlands would pay for this heavily, which was seconded by Yıldırım and Çavuşoğlu. But Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci made a statement afterward, saying there would be no economic sanctions planned against the Netherlands. The two countries have a trade volume of $6 billion a year. Nearly 1 million Dutch tourists visit Turkey every year and the Netherlands is one of the favorite countries of Turkish investors abroad. The Netherlands’ Vitol recently bought the biggest gas station network in Turkey, Petrol Ofisi, for nearly 1.4 billion euros, in addition to the existing Shell network. Turkey’s press is speculating about banning Dutch government planes from Turkish airspace and similar low-profile moves.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), is urging the government to either stop escalating the rhetoric or walk the walk against the Netherlands in this situation, which has “hurt national pride.” It’s an interesting impasse indeed, since it prevents the AK Parti from being able to denounce the CHP and all the naysayers of siding with the enemies of Turkey. Filiz Kerestecioğlu of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish problem, on the other hand, claims it was not Turkey the EU was targeting but the ruling AK Parti and its policies.
By the time Çelik completed his press conference, a written statement by the EU Commission had hit the news wires. In the statement, the commission raised the bar and said that the new Turkish constitution, if approved by the people in April 16, would be examined vis-à-vis Turkey’s obligations to the EU as part of its candidacy for membership. That could both infuriate Erdoğan and also give him an extra trump card in his moves against naysayers in the referendum. He could take a line closer to Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli and say “forget about the EU, it was not going anywhere anyway.” He could also say that it was evidence that the Europeans were supporting the “no” vote because they do not want a stronger Turkey under the new system where all the executive powers would be in the president’s hands.
However, Ankara is also unhappy with the lack of support from other parts of the. Russia, for example, where Erdoğan visited Vladimir Putin for extensive talks on March 9, displayed rhetoric similar to NATO, asking for both the Netherlands and Turkey to calm down and de-escalate the tension; that is not something the AK Parti government needs now.
The level of disappointment is also evident from a report by the government-run Anadolu Agency on March 13 with the title “World condemns Netherlands for row over Turkey.” Those listed as “the world” in the story were “Adnan Mansar, Secretary-General of the Tunisian Harak Tounes al-Irada political party, Prominent Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour, Iraq’s former Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and Veled Eddi, a representative of a Mauritian umbrella group the National Forum for Democracy and Unity.”
Turkey’s government must find an honorable exit strategy and a sustainable way to take the country out of this latest standoff.