The European Union’s top officials sharply criticised Turkey on Wednesday for accusing EU states Germany and the Netherlands of fascism, saying the charges were driving Ankara further away from its goal of joining the bloc.
A war of words between Turkey and the EU has erupted this month over planned rallies by Turkish politicians in Rotterdam and other European cities that aimed to drum up support for plans to give Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers in a referendum on April 16.
The Dutch banned the Rotterdam rally at the weekend, fearing tensions in Turkey over the referendum could spill over into its expatriate Turkish community. Erdogan retaliated by branding the Netherlands “Nazi remnants”. He has also accused Germany of “fascist actions” for cancelling several planned rallies.
“Rotterdam… totally destroyed by the Nazis, which now has a mayor born in Morocco: If any anyone sees fascism in Rotterdam they are completely detached from reality,” European Council President Donald Tusk told the European Parliament.
Tusk’s remarks were echoed by the head of the executive European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who told parliament he was “scandalised” by the Turkish accusations.
“This is totally unacceptable and the one who is doing this is taking distance from Europe and not trying to enter the European Union,” he said.
Erdogan, who survived a military coup last summer, has defended his plans to amass greater powers, saying Turkey needs greater stability. But his crackdown on dissenting voices among the judiciary and the media since the failed coup has drawn strong criticism in the West.
Still, the EU is caught between holding Erdogan accountable and guaranteeing the continuation of a deal to control the flow of refugees and migrants who pass through Turkey to Europe.
This deal has given the EU a badly-needed breathing space after more than a million people, mostly fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, fled to the bloc in 2015-16 via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans.
Turkey’s EU affairs minister, Omer Celik, told Reuters on Tuesday it was time for Ankara to reassess that deal as the EU had failed to deliver on its promise to provide visa-free access to Europe in exchange for help on migration.
On Wednesday the European Commission said it remained committed to the deal and expected Turkey to comply as well as it was in their mutual interest.
The EU has previously said Turkey must still meet seven of 72 criteria required for visa-free travel, including a softening of its anti-terrorism laws that Brussels said says are applied too broadly but which Ankara insists are necessary.
EU officials say they are not yet worried the migrant deal might collapse, noting that the bloc has disbursed €777m as part of the accord to help Syrian refugees in Turkey.
“Erdogan knows he cannot blow it up … he needs our money. He is nervous because he may lose his referendum,” a senior EU diplomat said.