Turkey-EU Showdown: Is the Worst Ahead?

The diplomatic showdown between Turkey and the Netherlands reflects contradictions, which have been piling up over many months, Valdai Club expert Alexander Rahr believes. According to him, Europe wants to demonstrate to the whole world that liberal values come first and it is ready to defend them even if it runs contrary to its interests.

EU-Turkey tensions escalated dramatically after Dutch authorities denied Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu entry to the country and later detained Turkey's family affairs minister who had travelled to Holland from Germany by car. Both politicians were planning to address members of the Dutch-Turkish community and encourage them to support amendments to the Turkish constitution at the referendum on April 16. The amendments aim at transforming Turkey from a parliamentary republic to a presidential one.

The diplomatic showdown between Turkey and the Netherlands reflects contradictions which have been piling up over many months, said Alexander Rahr, Research Director of the German-Russian Forum, in an interview with valdaiclub.com. “The chasm between Turkey and the EU should be seen as a result of Europe’s urge to rescue its liberal model at all costs, hence such a tough response,” he said. “In fact, the conflict with Turks began a year ago, when some European parliaments recognized the Armenian genocide and explained to the Turks that the door to the European Union was closed for them.”

In addition, European states were sharply negative about the plans to change the Turkish constitution and said they would not allow to campaign for its amendment on their territory. “Europeans said: this anti-liberal constitution runs contrary to our democratic values, we do not, and will not support it,” Rahr stressed.

Tensions aggravated after Turkish authorities detained German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, a correspondent of the Die Welt newspaper. The conflict began to grow and is unstoppable now, the expert believes.

“After Germany began to demand the release of the German-Turkish journalist, his detention was prolonged by three months. The German government is not used to be treated like that. Germans believe they have influence all over the world. If they say that this journalist should not be hurt and [Turks] apply new punitive measures against him, this could make even the Chancellor lose her temper. Therefore Germany’s response was so tough,” the expert stressed.

The escapades of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan added fuel to the fire. In early March he said that Germany's policy towards Ankara is comparable to the Nazi regime. “Germany had strayed from the path of democracy, its current practice has nothing to do with democracy and even comparable with the Nazi regime,” —he said. Erdogan has called Deniz Yücel a “German spy” and “henchman of terrorists”.

“Today, Europe wants to demonstrate to the whole world that liberal values come first and it is ready to defend them even if it runs contrary to its interests," Rahr said. Only recently the EU was ready to make compromises with Turkey, realizing that cooperation with it would help prevent aggravation of the migration crisis, but now Europe looks more determined.

The aggravation of relations between Europe and Turkey will be exploited by politicians on both sides, Rahr said. “Here is a double game. Many politicians and parties need this conflict to gain points,” the expert said. “Erdogan will only benefit from this dispute. Those voters whom he needs just waited for such a conflict with Europe to show that Turkey should be strong, not a helpless pawn of Europe. But the same is true for Europe. Merkel uses this whole story in the election campaign to show that she defends liberal values. The same applies to the Netherlands and other countries.”

Rahr stressed that Turkish communities in the European countries are divided into three groups: supporters of Erdogan, for whom he is a symbol of the Turkish national revival, his opponents, who believe that Turkey needs to save democracy, and Kurds, “who are ready to fight bitterly for Free Kurdistan in Europe.” Serious frictions between them do not add stability to the situation in the European countries during the pre-election period, the expert noted.

Rahr recalled that the Turkish diaspora is one of the most populous in the countries of Western Europe and any attempts to influence it from the outside will have a powerful resonance. “In recent months, up to yesterday, if you take the statement of the outgoing German president, the ruling classes in Europe have constantly accused Russia of interfering in election campaigns in the West to destabilize the situation in Europe. Let’s see how they will perceive the moves of Ankara, which actually destabilize the entire Turkish community not only in Germany, but also in the Netherlands and other countries,” Rahr said.

In a recent interview to Bild am Sonntag, German President Joachim Gauk, whose term ends on March 18, warned about possible foreign intervention in the election campaign in Germany, saying that Russia was engaged in forming a negative attitude toward migrants among the Russian-speaking residents in Germany.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.