TURKEY’S President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has never been one to shy away from confrontation. If anything, he seems to thrive on it, but he also knows that it boosts his popularity at home. He does not appear to care that his confrontational style antagonises Turkey’s allies and has enhanced his reputation as an unreliable and unpredictable bully who has no qualms about employing his brash, authoritarian style in foreign relations.
His very public spat with the government of the Netherlands, a Nato ally, over the latter’s refusal to allow Turkish ministers to address rallies on Dutch soil was indicative of the reckless way in which handles foreign relations. “It is very rare for relations between two Nato members to become so toxic,” commented the BBC website yesterday, pointing out that “similar restrictions in Germany and Austria have also soured relations with Turkey.”
Erdogan, who had sent ministers to European countries with big Turkish populations in order to rally support for the April 16 referendum that would increase the president’s powers, reacted like street-fighter rather than a head of state on receiving the news that planned rallies had been blocked. First, he had compared Germany to the Nazis, dismissed the Netherlands as “Nazi remnants” and “a banana republic”, before declaring that “Nazism is still widespread in the West,” and accusing western countries of “Islamophobia”.
Dutch authorities had escorted one Turkish minister, who had arrived by car to address a crowd in Rotterdam, to the border with Germany and banned a second from entering the country for the same purpose. The Netherlands claimed the rallies could have whipped up tensions, but the main concern was probably Wednesday’s general election, in which the anti-Islam, far right Freedom Party of Geert Wilders is forecasted to poll strongly.
The country’s deputy prime minister, Lodewijk Asscher, perhaps with the elections in mind, hit back at Erdogan, saying that to be called Nazis by a regime with a such poor human rights record “is just disgusting”. Prime Minister Mark Rutte demanded an apology. It is not only Erdogan who can use verbal assaults on other countries to win votes at home.
It was high time Europeans started responding to Erdogan in the same language he uses, because it seems to be the only language he understands. The EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tried to defuse the tension by saying it was essential “to find ways to calm down the situation”, but Chancellor Merkel offered her “complete support and solidarity” to the Netherlands. It is important for the EU to take a united stand against this outrageous behaviour by Erdogan and let him know that his autocratic, confrontational style would not be tolerated.