Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has warned the Netherlands it will “pay the price” for harming ties after two of his ministers were barred from the country.
The combative president offended several EU countries – including Germany, Denmark, France and Sweden – as he claimed “Nazism was alive in the west” and called Germany “the capital of fascism”.
The escalating row comes as the authoritarian Erdoğan dispatches his ministers around Europe to win votes from expatriate Turks for a dramatic increase in his powers.
Turkey is voting on April 16 whether to turn from a parliamentary to a presidential republic – rather like the US.
A Yes vote would give sweeping new powers to the president, allowing him or her to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose most senior judges and enact certain laws by decree.
What’s more, the president alone would be able to announce a state of emergency and dismiss parliament. Parliament would not able to run inquiries into his actions.
There are 5.5 million Turks living outside the country, with 1.4 million eligible voters in Germany – and the Yes campaign is keen to get them on side.
So a number of rallies have been planned for countries with large numbers of expat voters, including Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
Many of the countries, including Germany, have cited security concerns as the official reason for banning the rallies.
The Dutch government said they would stoke tensions days before its election, which has been fought against a background of far-right popularism opposed to immigrants.
The two ministers were blocked from addressing Turkish expatriates at a rally in Rotterdam at the weekend. Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, Turkey’s family minister, was escorted to the German border; Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was refused permission to fly in. Within hours:
- Çavuşoğlu called the Netherlands the “capital of fascism” after he was refused entry
- Erdoğan accused Germany of “Nazi practices” after rallies were cancelled – words chancellor Angela Merkel described as “unacceptable”
- Denmark’s prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen postponed a planned meeting with Turkey’s prime minister Binali Yıldırım, saying he was concerned that “democratic principles are under great pressure” in Turkey
- Local French officials have allowed a rally in Metz, saying it does not pose a public order threat, but France’s foreign ministry has urged Turkey to avoid provocations
Erdoğan accused western countries of Islamophobia and demanded international organisations impose sanctions on the Netherlands.
“I have said that I had thought that Nazism was over, but that I was wrong. Nazism is alive in the West,” he said.
Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte has demanded Erdoğan apologise for likening the Dutch to “Nazi fascists”.
“This country was bombed during the Second World War by Nazis. It’s totally unacceptable to talk in this way.”
Reports say a venue in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, has also cancelled a pro-Erdoğan rally that was to have been attended by Turkey’s agriculture minister.
Sweden’s foreign ministry said it was not involved in the decision and that the event could take place elsewhere.
Many European nations have also expressed deep disquiet about Turkey’s response to the July coup attempt and the country’s perceived slide towards authoritarianism under Erdoğan.
On the surface, the reforms might seem a proposal that would enjoy cross-party consensus: modernising Turkey’s constitution that was drawn up at the behest of the military after the 1980 coup.
The government – and, principally, Erdoğan – argue the reforms would streamline decision-making and avoid the unwieldy parliamentary coalitions that have hamstrung Turkey in the past.
A presidential system is all very well in a country with proper checks and balances like the US, retort critics, where an independent judiciary has shown itself willing to stand up to Donald Trump and a rigorous free press calls him out on contentious policies.
But in Turkey, where judicial independence has plummeted and which ranks 151 of 180 countries in the press freedom index, an all-powerful president would spell the death knell of democracy, they say.
The opposition is effectively hamstrung with MPs, journalists and activists among more than 140,000 detained since the coup attempt and media often shut down if they criticise the government.