EU warns Erdogan over diplomatic spat with the Netherlands

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5 min

The EU warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to avoid inflammatory rhetoric as a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands deepened, with the Dutch envoy to Ankara summoned for the third day in a row.


The Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies over the weekend to boost support for an upcoming referendum on expanding Erdogan's powers.

In response, Erdogan twice accused fellow NATO member the Netherlands of acting like the Nazis, comments that sparked outrage in a country bombed and occupied by German forces in World War II.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who faces far-right challenger Geert Wilders in a key general election on Wednesday, said Erdogan's comments were unacceptable and that Ankara should apologise.

Adding fuel to the fire, the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik as saying on Monday that the land passage component of Turkey's migrant deal with Europe should be reconsidered.

In an escalating standoff that risks damaging Turkey's already deteriorating relations with the European Union ahead of the April 16 referendum on constitutional change, Brussels sternly warned Ankara to avoid making the situation worse.

>> Read more: France under fire for authorising Turkish campaign event

In apparent reference to Erdogan's comments, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn called on Turkey to "refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation".

"It is essential to avoid further escalation and find ways to calm down the situation," they said in a statement.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also urged Turkey and its NATO allies to "show mutual respect, to be calm and have a measured approach to contribute to de-escalate the tensions".

Jasper Mortimer reports from Ankara

Envoy summoned three times

Dutch authorities at the weekend prevented the plane of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from landing and blocked Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from holding a rally in Rotterdam.

The ministers had been seeking to harness the support of the estimated 400,000 people of Turkish origin living in the country ahead of the referendum on constitutional changes that would give Erdogan greater powers.

The Turkish foreign ministry on Monday summoned the Dutch envoy to Ankara for the third day in a row, handing two separate protest notes over his country's actions.

The Netherlands on Monday also issued a new travel warning to Dutch citizens in Turkey, urging them to stay "alert across the whole of Turkey".

Turkey has already responded furiously to fellow NATO ally Germany's refusal to give permission for ministers to hold rallies there, with Erdogan comparing such action to "Nazi practices".

Denmark has also asked Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to postpone a visit planned for later this month.

The issue risks spiralling into a crisis with the EU as a whole, which Turkey has sought to join for more than half a century in a so far fruitless membership bid.

Erdogan, who has indicated he may attempt to address rallies in EU states in a move that could inflame the situation further, said Sunday that the West was showing its "true face" in the stand-off.

He accused the Netherlands of acting like "fascists" and "Nazis", saying on Sunday: "I had thought that the era of Nazism was over, but I was wrong."

Rutte has been under pressure to take a hard line against Erdogan, just days before he faces the populist Wilders in a close parliamentary election. He expressed outrage at Erdogan's Nazi jibe, noting: "This country was bombed during the Second World War by the Nazis. It's totally unacceptable to talk in this way."

On Monday he called for Dutch voters to be the first to stop Europe's "trend of populism".

'Lifeline for Erdogan'

EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said in televised comments that Turkey would retaliate against the Netherlands with "sanctions", without giving details.

Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli described Europe as a "very sick man", a nod to the moniker used in the mid-19th century of the declining Ottoman Empire as the "sick man of Europe".

Turkish newspapers also responded with fury to pictures showing a Dutch police dog attacking a pro-Erdogan protester in Rotterdam as he lay on the ground.

"Savagery. The world watched the barbarity against Turkish citizens," said the mainstream Hurriyet daily.

Mass-circulation Swiss daily Blick waded into the controversy with a provocative headline in Turkish urging Swiss Turks to "vote against the Erdogan dictatorship".

Bringing out the millions-strong expatriate vote could be key in a referendum that is expected to be close and potentially a turning point in Turkey's modern history.

Analysts have said Erdogan is using the crisis to show that his strong leadership is needed against a Europe that he presents as being innately hostile to Turkey.

"Erdogan is looking for 'imagined' foreign enemies to boost his nationalist base in the run up to the April 16 referendum," Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, told AFP.

"By blocking [the rallies], they may have given Erdogan a lifeline to eke out a victory in the referendum," he added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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