Referendum in Turkey strains relations with EU

No further campaign rallies will be held in Germany ahead of the constitutional referendum in mid-April, according to the governing AKP party. Prior to this decision Turkey's President Erdoğan had accused Germany of resorting Nazi methods and the Netherlands had banned Turkish ministers from addressing rallies. Can the rift between the EU and Ankara be mended?

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Aamulehti (FI) /

Short-sighted and unreasonable policies

Erdoğan's policies are doing lasting damage to Turkey's relations with the EU, Aamulehti complains:

“If the constitutional amendment is accepted the Turkish president will be able to stay in power for another two terms, until 2029. This would make him an enormously powerful ruler, free to appoint and dismiss ministers and dissolve parliament at will. At the same time the days when Turkey sought EU membership and was the European leaders' favourite foreign cousin are receding into the distance. … Erdoğan's current political course is short-sighted and unreasonable as regards the relations with his neighbours. If Erdoğan gets his way in the referendum, it may prove very difficult to repair those relations. Then he would doubtless find friends in places other than the West. That would not be good, either for Turkey or the EU.”

Hürriyet (TR) /

EU and Ankara no longer friends

The rift between the EU and Erdoğan has become so wide in recent weeks that there is little prospect of a de-escalation after the referendum, Hürriyet points out:

“No matter what the result of the vote on April 16, the clear loser here is the relationship between Turkey and the EU. … We are going through times when the EU is thinking aloud about freezing the accession talks or imposing economic sanctions against Turkey. However, many in the EU would prefer it if they didn't have to suspend the talks but Ankara did this itself. At the same time it would be hardly surprising if after April 16 President Erdoğan reacts to the EU, which he has considered his enemy during the referendum campaign, with a completely inflexible stance.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Don't tar all of Europe with the same brush

Instead of calling all of Europe fascist Turks should take a more nuanced view of the continent, columnist Taha Akyol writes in Hürriyet Daily News:

“Rotterdam’s Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb is a Muslim of Moroccan origin. In the Dutch elections, about 15 Turkish candidates competed from various parties; some of them have been elected to the Dutch parliament. Thus, there is one Holland, which accommodates the populist Geert Wilders, and there is another Holland, which is tolerant, free, democratic and equal. We can say the same for the entire West. Can we put all of them in the same basket by saying, 'The crusader Europe, they are all fascists anyway'? If we do so, then we would be increasing the enemies of Turkey. ... I want to repeat and insist that against populist and authoritarian Europe and the U.S., Turkey should unify its discourse with democratic Europe and U.S. and gain friends from there.” (RO) /

Erdoğan will soon adopt conciliatory tone

The current tensions between Ankara and the EU won't last, political scientist Bogdan Nedea writes on the blog

“It all comes down to playing the card of political nationalism for Turkish voters. The reason: Erdoğan wants to remain in power for a long time. More than that: the Turkish regime is in the final phase of consolidating its power. Erdoğan's popularity helps him to divert public attention from the country's economic and democratic problems by focussing on the image of a foreign enemy (regardless of whether it's the Kurds or the Europeans). ... Nevertheless, mutual economic dependence, which is the main reason for the relations with Europe, the challenges in Syria, which Ankara can't handle on its own, and the ephemeral ties with Russia all indicate that Erdoğan will change his attitude as soon as he's achieved his domestic goals.”

Webcafé (BG) /

True fascism not to be found in the West

Erdoğan is way off the mark with his Nazi comparisons, writes Webcafé:

“The latest attempts of the sultan and his followers to shame Europe with its painful Nazi past have simply drawn mockery. The Turkish trolls are barking up the wrong tree because fascism left Europe a long time ago, even if the populist tendencies in certain regions appear to indicate the contrary. True fascism has long since moved eastwards and is in the process of engulfing Turkey. Once it does, we can be sure that both sides will fall silent in this absurd row. The European side because its words will no longer be heeded and the other side, in the Orient, because it will be too preoccupied with its megalomania.”

Star (TR) /

Turks being persecuted in Europe

Erdoğan's Nazi comparisons are not at all unjustified, the pro-government daily Star counters:

“Turks living in Germany or the Netherlands can be subject to verbal or physical attacks as soon as they walk out the door. Not long ago there was the series of neo-Nazi murders in which attempts were made to cast the victims' relatives as the culprits. Now such ill-will has become commonplace, and fascism and racism are socially acceptable. Turks are harassed at doctors' practices, at school, at the bus stop, in stores, on the street and at work. ... You can always try to whitewash things with liberal values, but racism and arrogance are making themselves felt wherever you look. ... The anti-Erdoğan and anti-Turkish sentiment, together with Wilders' threat to send anyone carrying a Turkish flag back to Turkey, show that fascism has become firmly established in society. Just like in the days when the Nazis began their rise to power.”

Etelä-Saimaa (FI) /

Dispute must not escalate further

It is high time to defuse the crisis between Turkey and the EU, Etelä-Saimaa demands:

“The row between the EU and Turkey should not be allowed to escalate any further. The situation must grow calmer. Freedom of speech is one of the EU's most cherished values, but the campaigning of the Turkish ministers is inappropriate. … It is good manners to coordinate visits by ministers with the representatives of the state to be visited in advance and to confine such events to closed rooms. European rules also dictate that the opposition must be given the opportunity to have its say. Since the attempted coup in Turkey the relations between the country and the EU have cooled. This new conflict is worsening the situation and widening the gap between Turkey and Europe, which is bad news for everyone involved.”

Artı Gerçek (TR) /

Turks are harming their own interests

That Erdoğan is being applauded in his own country for his confrontation with the EU is intolerable, the anti-government web portal Artı Gerçek finds:

“Our society is so blind that it can't see how in the end this will all backfire. Even though all of them - from the carpet sellers to the waiters - had to pay the price when the free-spending European tourists stayed away and the Russia crisis occurred, they seem to think they will emerge from the current period unscathed. … They don't realise that they will grow poorer if foreigners are too scared to make new investments. … Worse still, they don't understand that in the end the Islamist-Turkish community living in Europe will pay the price for the anti-European and anti-Christian discourse President Erdoğan has begun. This boxing ring diplomacy, motivated by domestic interests, will only ensure that Europe, which is struggling economically, adopts an even more fascistic course.”

Blog Pitsirikos (GR) /

Why Europe is kowtowing to Erdoğan

Blogger Pitsirikos explains why the Europeans aren't reacting more fiercely to Erdoğan's provocations:

“Why do they let him cast himself as a democrat who is standing up to the European Nazis? The reason is simple: the refugees. The European Union sees Turkey as a safe country for refugees while at the same time the EU member states are issuing travel warnings to their citizens. So if the European leaders were to say clearly that Erdoğan is a fascist who wants to be elevated to the status of an absolute, lifelong dictator through this referendum, he would ask them why they consider Turkey to be a safe country for refugees. In other words, if the European politicians were to tell Erdoğan honestly what they think of him, he would call them hypocrites - and he would be right.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Reject the Trojan horse

It's high time for a joint strategy against Ankara's provocations, Berlingske urges:

“The Austrian chancellor's proposal for a pan-European ban on Turkish election campaigns was unfortunately rejected. … As regards freedom of opinion, an EU mainstay, it may have seemed a little odd but democratic countries have the right and obligation to defend democracy. … Europe has taken in people with a Turkish background for 40 to 50 years, and many of them have dual nationality and therefore the formal right to participate in political decisions [in Turkey]. … So suddenly conflicts are emerging in our societies that have nothing to do with modern Turkish Europeans. We cannot and don't want to accept this. This is why it is so crucial that the EU rejects the Trojan horse that is knocking at the door in the guise of gatherings of people.”

Právo (CZ) /

Respect freedom of speech

Banning Turkish politicians from making appearances in Europe will only work to President Erdoğan's advantage, Právo counters:

“If Erdoğan wins the referendum Europe will have to think about how it helped him with its obstruction policy. And if the government doesn't win then Erdoğan will have a handy excuse for the failure: those dreadful Europeans are to blame. … Naturally, Erdoğan's powers being strengthened is not a good prospect for Turkish democracy. But perhaps the EU should at least respect something: freedom of speech. Otherwise it might look like it respects this principle only when it suits it. And when it doesn't it tramples on it.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Turks don't need lessons in politics

Europeans shouldn't underestimate the Turks' understanding of democracy, Le Soir points out, also condemning a ban on AKP events:

“Must we fear that this electoral intrusion will have a negative impact on the cohesion of our European societies, in particular that of our Turkish communities? That would be to give too little credit to the political conscience of Turks living in Europe. A couple of clumsy decrees are not about to change the minds of convinced Erdoğan fans. And Turks in Europe - like many in Turkey too - are perfectly capable of determining which country, Erdoğan's Turkey or their host, is closer to democracy, and which is closer to dictatorship.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Europe needs geopolitical realism

The escalation in the conflict with Ankara doesn't surprise De Volkskrant:

“It is no coincidence but a new geopolitical reality which Europe's democracies must deal with. The two major powers on the edge of the continent, Turkey and Russia, are drifting away. In both cases this is the result of a mixture of internal repression, limitation of freedoms and a 'legitimization by the people' extolled by the press. Both need internal and external enemies to prove their legitimacy and this is making their foreign policy ever more unpredictable. … The Europeans must find a way to deal with these increasingly distant powers. … What is needed is diplomacy based on Europe's political and economic power and its values. Sometimes that means making deals that gnaw at its conscience - but which are a consequence of geopolitical realism.”

Karar (TR) /

Turkey cannot tolerate insult to national honour

The events over the weekend must have tough consequences, columnist İbrahim Kirs demands in the conservative daily Karar:

“I don't believe that any Turk in their right mind can tolerate the way the Dutch government is treating Turkish ministers. Nor can we forgive the police violence against Turks who protested in the Netherlands against this humiliation of our country. To protect our national honour, both the government and the state institutions must demand an explanation. ... At the expense of democracy and the freedom of opinion the Dutch prime minister has allowed a conflict to flare up with Turkey in order to compete with his political opponent, a racist party. ... In any case our top priority should now be to assess what steps our national interests and ideals demand.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Election campaigns in both countries

Neither side will cede because both countries are in the middle of election campaigns, Lidové noviny believes:

“The Dutch will vote for their parliament on Wednesday, and the Turkish referendum on extending the powers of the president takes place next month. That is why Dutch politicians are taking such a firm stance: they want to weaken Wilders' protest party. ... Speaking at a press conference, the mayor of Rotterdam said that the Turkish family minister was an unwelcome foreigner. The mayor, incidentally, is a native of Morocco. That's right: a native of Morocco called a Turkish minister an unwelcome foreigner. What will Wilders - who chalks up most of his points in the election campaign with provocative remarks about Muslims and above all Moroccans - say to that?”

Duma (BG) /

Erdoğan's calculated escalation tactics

The real intent behind the controversial visits by Turkish ministers to EU countries is less to campaign for the referendum than to provoke Europe, Duma writes:

“Turkish government representatives are continually taking part in rallies, demonstrations and meetings with the Turkish diaspora in the various European countries. A double strategy is behind this: on the one hand Ankara wants to show that it hasn't forgotten its fellow citizens who live abroad. On the other it wants to show Europe that it has its tentacles everywhere. It's no coincidence that Erdoğan has repeatedly menaced the EU as he's doing now. Everything points to the Turkish president seeking open confrontation and to escalate the conflict. There's only one explanation: he's desperately trying to make the Turks believe that Europe is their enemy.”

Cumhuriyet (TR) /

Crisis destroying democracy

The crisis between the EU and Turkey will harm both sides, the government-critical daily Cumhuriyet fears:

“It will only fuel the xenophobia and above all the Islamophobia and worsen the crisis of democracy in the countries of the West. Meanwhile in Turkey hatered of the West is being fomented at every opportunity so as to pave the way for the rise of a nationalistic-authoritarian brand of politics. … We are going through a dangerous period in which Turkey, thanks to the tensions with the West, is stigmatising democracy and freedom as Western products. It is impossible not to be worried that this escalation of tensions threatens the very foundations of Turkey.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Time to come down hard

The Netherlands must remain firm now, the right-wing daily De Telegraaf demands:

“Ankara's angry reaction is unbelievable. A raging President Erdoğan compares our country with Nazis, threatens us with sanctions and demands apologies because we turned away two Turkish ministers who were sent here to make trouble. 'Sultan' Erdoğan has clearly lost the plot. Turkey should apologise for its shameless insults and interference in our country. Now we must come down on it. This is the only language the Turks understand. … Prime Minister Rutte wants to de-escalate the situation. But Erdoğan's long arm must be chopped off. Turkey's continuous interference is hindering the integration of Dutch-Turks.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

End accession talks now

Erdoğan's Nazi comparisons and recent developments in Turkey must finally have consequences for Turkey's EU accession bid, Süddeutsche Zeitung demands:

“There haven't been any serious negotiations for some time now anyway. It was just about who would make the first move. The EU knew that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan no longer wants his country to join the EU. Erdoğan knew that the EU knows this and was hoping that Brussels would finally announce the suspension of talks. It would have been welcome ammunition for his hysterical anti-European campaign aimed at introducing presidential rule. The EU didn't want to do the loudmouth the favour. That was understandable, but it didn't achieve anything. … The EU can't prevent the dismantling of democracy in Turkey, but it must react to it. There is no alternative to a preliminary but formal end to the accession negotiations with Turkey.”