EU leaders bash Turkey over the Netherlands
European Council chief Donald Tusk and senior MEPs hit back at Turkey in a widening diplomatic dispute between Ankara and the Netherlands.
Turkey's president Erdogan had described the Netherlands as a bastion of Nazi fascism, after Dutch authorities had prevented his ministers from campaigning in the country ahead of an April referendum, which aims to further tighten the Turkish leader's grip on power.
Clashes broke out in Rotterdam last weekend between the Dutch police and Turkish-Dutch citizens who were demonstrating outside the Turkish consulate.
In a speech to the EU parliament's plenary sitting in Strasbourg on Wednesday (15 March), Tusk noted that Rotterdam was "the city of Erasmus, brutally destroyed by the Nazis, which today has a mayor born in Morocco."
"If anyone sees fascism in Rotterdam, they are completely detached from reality. We all show solidarity with the Netherlands," he said, before repeating the message in Dutch.
The Turkey deal
Erdogan on Wednesday also took a shot at the failure of the Dutch to protect around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from slaughter in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
The widening rift and war of words from an increasingly authoritarian Erdogan has prompted renewed calls among leading MEPs to once again cut short accession negotiations for Turkey to join the EU.
The talks were only temporarily stalled last summer, with the EU parliament voting for a resolution in November asking to formally freeze them.
German MEP Manfred Weber, who leads the centre-right group, said that full membership for Turkey was not realistic in "the foreseeable future."
The Greens have called for the migrant deal, agreed last year between the EU and Turkey, to be scrapped. But Weber said he wanted to keep the deal alive. Asked if Turkey is using it as leverage against the EU, Weber said that it is not.
"I have no indication that they will use this as leverage," he told EUobserver, adding that it was "a win-win situation".
The deal is viewed by the EU as a success, given the dramatic decline in refugees and reduction in people arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey.
Turkey has curbed the flow in exchange for concessions linked to accession and visa waivers, while the EU pours billions into financing refugee projects in the country.
But the misery for the some 13,000 people now stranded on the Greek islands was further illustrated by recent reports of suicides and a spike in those suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Turkey is a member of Nato and, on Wednesday, German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen warned against rupturing ties.
Weber also spoke of trade, noting that Turkey depends on the EU for almost half of its exports.
"Forty-four percent of the whole export of Turkey is linked to the European Union and only 2 percent is linked to Russia," he told reporters.
Turkey on Wednesday had also posted its worst budget and unemployment statistics since 2009.
Erdogan's purge since the failed military coup last July may have factored into it, given that more than 100,000 people have been detained or lost their jobs.
He has also jailed more journalists than any other country in the world, including a German reporter from the newspaper, Die Welt.
“He asks for freedom of speech in Europe for his ministers, but at the same time he is jailing critical journalists," said Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the liberal group.
The EU commission had earlier in the week issued a carefully crafted statement, following a critical opinion from the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe on efforts to change Turkey's constitution - giving Erdogan more autocratic powers.
"Turkey has the sovereign right to decide over its system of governance," noted EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and commissioner Johannes Hahn in a joint statement on Monday.
On Wednesday, pro-Erdogan hackers defaced Twitter accounts belonging to Amnesty International, Unicef and BBC North America, with the words "Nazi Germany" and "Nazi Holland".
Some of posts featured Turkish flags and messages of "see you on 16 April" - the date of Erdogan's referendum.
Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland have also opposed hosting pro-Erdogan campaigns ahead of the April vote. Meanwhile, Denmark's prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen postponed a meeting with his Turkish counterpart due to "increased tensions between Turkey on the one hand and Germany and the Netherlands on the other".
This piece was updated on 16 March at 14:20 to clarify Denmark's PM had postponed a meeting with Turkey.