Monday

25th Mar 2019

Turkish-Dutch row takes over election campaign

  • Turkish-Dutch protesters facing Dutch police in Rotterdam on Saturday. (Photo: Reuters)

The issue of foreign affairs has become the main theme of the Dutch electoral campaign this weekend, as the Netherlands experienced its worst diplomatic crisis with a Nato ally in recent history.

One of the contenders to become Dutch prime minister on behalf of the usually pro-EU European People's Party called for the EU to abolish a 54-year-old association agreement with Turkey, in response to a diplomatic row with Turkish ministers.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Representatives of Turkey's government wanted to campaign on Saturday in the Dutch city of Rotterdam for a Yes vote in Turkey's upcoming April referendum, which would see further powers granted to president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish officials have tried to campaign in several EU states in the past week, but the Dutch context is different, due to its incoming general elections on Wednesday (15 March). Dutch centre-right Liberal prime minister Mark Rutte has portrayed the elections as a choice between him and far-right anti-Islam and anti-EU politician Geert Wilders.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced last week that he would campaign for a Yes vote in Rotterdam on Saturday, despite explicit requests from the Dutch government not to do so.

Dutch officials were afraid the rally would cause public unrest among roughly 400,000 Turkish-Dutch citizens in the country. Over half of them have the right to vote in the Turkish referendum.

Cavusoglu had called on them to participate in great numbers whilst at a public rally.

According to the Dutch government, when talks with Cavusoglu were still ongoing, Turkey issued a public threat.

Blackmail

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders told Dutch political talk-show Buitenhof on Sunday that he learned via CNN of president Erdogan's threat to pose sanctions on the Netherlands if Cavusoglu wasn't allowed to speak.

That was the final straw, Koenders said.

“I will not be blackmailed,” he noted.

The Dutch government withdrew the landing rights for Cavusoglu.

Following this, Turkish family affairs minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya decided to enter the Netherlands by car via Germany, which Koenders called “sneaky”.

Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said the Turkish consulate had “deceived” him, by not mentioning that an event would be happening that evening, calling on Turkish-Dutch citizens to protest.

A standoff followed on Saturday night between Kaya's convoy and the Rotterdam police, while Turkish-Dutch protesters had gathered near the Turkish consulate.

It ended when the Dutch government escorted Kaya out of the Netherlands.

'Nazi remnants'

Meanwhile, Turkish president Erdogan talked of the Netherlands in a speech noting “Nazi remnants” and “fascists”, diplomatically unheard of comments towards a country that suffered five years of Nazi occupation and lost almost 200,000 citizens in the Second World War.

However, Erdogan has said he wanted the Netherlands to apologise, something that Koenders and Rutte both said is not going to happen.

Koenders noted that he would like it if Turkey apologised for its Nazi comments, but that he did not expect it.

Overnight, he had been in touch with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, who also spoke to Cavosoglu that night, a spokeswoman for Mogherini told EUobserver. However, Mogherini has not made a public statement yet.

The Netherlands did receive support from Denmark over the weekend, when Danish prime minister postponed a meeting with his Turkish counterpart because of the “rhetorical attacks” on the Netherlands.

Erdogan for his part continued to insult the Netherlands, calling it a “banana republic”, and saying the Dutch would “pay the price” for its actions.

EPP candidate: end EU-Turkey agreement

The diplomatic spat is likely to dominate the remaining days of the election campaign.

On Sunday, centre-right leader of the Christian-Democrats, the Dutch member of the European People's Party (EPP), took aim at prime minister Rutte's handling of the crisis.

Sybrand van Haersma Buma said the affair showed integration of Turkish-Dutch into Dutch society has “failed”.

He said he wanted to scrap an EU-Turkey association agreement signed in 1963, because its effect was that Turkish-Dutch did not need to take the citizenship test required of other immigrants.

Buma earlier called for the Netherlands not to ratify an association agreement with Ukraine.

Wilders vs Rutte

Meanwhile, far right MP Geert Wilders has claimed victory in the affair, saying it was because of him that Rutte decided to revoke the landing rights for Turkey's foreign minister.

The Turkish government has taken the same narrative, with Cavusoglu saying the Netherlands “has become a slave of the racist party of Wilders”.

Rutte said the Dutch elections had nothing to do with how the government acted. Nevertheless, both Wilders and Rutte will hope to profit from the affair, no matter what they say.

On Monday evening (13 March), the two will have a showdown in one of the very few television debates in which Wilders will participate.

Denk

One other party that may profit is the party Denk, which seems to mainly attract voters with a migration background.

Denk was founded by two Turkish-Dutch MPs who left the centre-left Labour party in 2014.

Critics say the party is sectarian, but its leader Tunavun Kuzu recently told EUobserver that his party “gives a voice” to people who are currently not being heard.

“We are the effect of polarisation, not the cause,” said Kuzu.

However, on Monday, the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands was quoted in the media saying Denk has an “aggressive style of campaigning”. It said Denk is putting pressure on mosque councils to tell their constituencies to vote Denk.

Also on Monday, deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher, of the centre-left Labour party, has invited Turkish organisations to talk with him to help “calm things down”.

If anything, the diplomatic row has reminded the Netherlands that it is not an island. The campaign, which focused almost exclusively on domestic affairs until now, will take a more global view.

Polls will probably not fully reflect the effect of the Dutch-Turkish diplomatic crisis on time, bringing an extra level of suspense to Wednesday's already close elections.

German-Turkish tensions rise over cancelled campaign events

Two German towns cancelled campaign events by Turkish ministers to rally support for Erdogan's consitutional reform amid escalating tensions between the two countries over the detention of a prominent German-Turkish journalist.

News in Brief

  1. Orban vows more EU 'information campaigns'
  2. May 'effectively out of power', says Scottish leader
  3. May under pressure to resign over Brexit endgame
  4. Million march against Brexit, five million sign petition
  5. Italy first G7 country to sign China Belt and Road deal
  6. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  7. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  8. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  2. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  3. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  4. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  5. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  6. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  7. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  8. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us