Netherlands elections: Why tensions between Turkey and European nations are rising before key polls

Namrata Tripathi
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Tensions between Turkey and some of the European nations, particularly Netherlands, are on the rise. The diplomatic feud between Netherlands and Turkey worsened after Istanbul threatened sanctions as Amsterdam barred Turkish ministers from landing in the country last week.

Showing solidarity with Netherlands, neighbouring country Denmark on Monday postponed a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim citing the country's rhetorical attacks on Netherlands.

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"With the current Turkish attacks on Holland, the meeting cannot be seen separated from that. I have therefore proposed to my Turkish colleague that the meeting will be postponed," Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said in a press release.

So, how did the feud between Netherlands and Turkey start?

It started when Netherlands revoked Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's flight permit for landing in the country last week. Cavusoglu had to attend a campaign in Netherlands for the upcoming Turkish constitutional referendum, which if voted yes, will grant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with additional powers.

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Later on Saturday, Turkey Family Affairs Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya also attempted to come to Netherlands against the wishes of the Dutch government and was subsequently blocked from entering the nation.

Why did Netherlands block the Turkish ministers?

The Netherlands opposed the visit by the Turkish ministers as it clashed with the upcoming Dutch general election, on March 15, citing law and order issue. The Turkish ministers were expected to address a large gathering of Turkish expatriates residing in the Dutch country, to campaign for the Turkish referendum. The campaign, an international row, also threatened to overshadow the parliamentary polls which are scheduled on Wednesday.

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The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said Kaya's visit was "irresponsible" and she had defied requests from The Hague to stay away from Netherlands. "Since last week [Dutch foreign affairs] minister Bert Koenders and I have been constantly trying to de-escalate the situation," he told WNL Op Zondag.

On Sunday, Rutte also called the Turkish government's stance unacceptable and called for talks to resolve the impasse. The PM also said that Turkey had crossed a diplomatic line, "This has never happened before, a country saying someone is not welcome and then them coming regardless."

Turkey's reaction - threatens sanctions/'Nazis'

Talks between both the countries on the issue broke down when Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu threatened Netherlands with sanctions on national television, Dutch minister Koenders said.

Soon after Cavusoglu was blocked from landing in Netherlands, a furious Erdogan hit back at the Dutch officials by saying they were "timid and coward" and branded them as "Nazi remnants and fascists." Earlier, Erdogan had also accused Germany of "continuing with Nazi practices."

The Dutch PM retorted to the comments made by Erdogan and said that although he understood Turkey's anger, but Erdogan's "Nazi" and "fascists" remarks were "crazy way out of line."

On the threat of sanctions, Rutte said, "We can never do business under this kind of blackmail," he said, adding: "We drew a red line."

Aftermath of the decision

After the Turkish family minister was asked to go back to Turkey, hundreds of Turk demonstrators gathered around the Turkish consulate in Netherlands. The police, however, dispersed the crowd using water cannon. Twelve people were also arrested.

In Turkey, a large crowd gathered outside the Dutch consulate in the evening as they chanted slogans and waved Turkish flags outside the building. A Turkish flag was also temporarily hoisted at the Netherlands consulate. The agitation was broadcast live on various Turkish media channels.

What is the Turkish referendum about?

The Turkish constitutional referendum is set to be held on April. The referendum on the proposed changes in the constitution will grant broad new powers under an executive presidential system to the Turkish President.

If voted 'Yes,' the referendum would transform the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. It will also consolidate the power of all the three legislative bodies into one executive branch, which will be under Erdogan.

Other European countries that have blocked referendum rallies

Austria, Switzerland and Germany have banned the Turkish referendum campaign meetings in their countries.

European countries have been severely critical of Erdogan's handling of basic freedom in his country ever since the attempted military coup in the country last year. Turkey jailed more journalists than any other country in 2016, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The nation has also shut 140 media outlets, more than 41,000 people have been arrested and about 100,000 workers have been dismissed from public service positions.

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