Today the Dutch authorities denied entry to the Turkish Foreign Minister who was to address a rally in the Netherlands in support of proposed changes to the Turkish Government. This comes on the back of a denial for a similar rally in Germany.
This makes uncomfortable reading. Today’s action was apparently taken directly by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, himself who said that, as Holland is approaching a General election on Wednesday in which “the immigration issue” plays a significant role, a the visit of The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, was “a threat to public order”.
While authorities may disagree with the proposals presented by Mr Erdoğan’s government, what appears to be a prolonged demonstration of pique by Europe’s ruling elite is almost unprecedented. Other countries, admittedly, like Russia (which banned 89 EU politicians from entering Russia in 2015, among them Nick Clegg and Uwe Corsepius) have also denied senior politicians from visiting their counties, but this sets a foolish precedent and one that the EU itself protested about in 2015. It causes offence, inconvenience and, more importantly, it closes opportunities to engage these people in meaningful conversation. If the Foreign Minister is coming to speak to a rally in Holland, it stands to reason that he should make time to talk to the Foreign Minister in the Netherlands. It makes no sense that his plane should be re-routed.
Our future rests on an ability to talk to one another. It is talking that has kept world peace for 70 years and if we abandon that, we are taking a very uncertain step in a new direction.
The Presidential system
If we think the changes proposed by President Erdoğan threaten democracy in Turkey, then we should engage with the Turkish leaders. Personally, I think the proposals will enshrine in law a constitution that finally pushes the army into its proper place. There is much to commend in that fact alone. Moreover, there seems little point in having direct elections for a President who is then denied the appropriate executive power of a democratically-elected leader. The change to the Presidential system simply recognises what is already happening.
The Language of Europe
Of course, there have been some high profile incidents in Turkey where journalists have either been detained or denied entry. While the arrest of Daniz Yüzel who is currently held in Silivri prison is by no means straightforward, despite the rather glib reports in the media, he is certainly not alone and that is worrying. Again, this runs in the face of free speech and the chance to engage and inform. But there is, I am afraid, a big difference between turning away, for example, Rod Nordland, a New York Times Journalist, and turning away a senior leader of a Democratic country and Nato ally. And for EU leaders to hide behind bureaucratic nonsense about security or to treat fellow leaders so casually and repeatedly is concerning. The EU is here being less than honest because the repeated problem suggests an overall policy to stop Turkish leaders from addressing their own people. So this is not so much about a threat to democracy from Turkey- it is a demonstration that democracy is itself threatened in Europe. You cannot have it both ways!
At a time, then, when Europe needs the voice of reason, we are packing our bags and planning to leave. Maybe we are going too soon- because we cannot leave Europe in this mess, where mendacity has evidently replaced diplomacy.
To make matters worse, this comes across in the Turkish media as something of an EU agenda. An event in Zurich scheduled for yesterday was cancelled as also rallies in three other Austrian towns. In the south German town of Gaggenau, the Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was to address a rally organised by EETD (the Union of European Turkish Democrats). At the last minute the event was cancelled by the local mayor who cited security concerns about on-site parking. Later, the authorities in Cologne said that a meeting scheduled for 5th March when the Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci was to have addressed a rally was cancelled because the appropriate permission had not been granted “There was no agreement for March 5, and there will not be”.
This might have been dismissed as some sort of bureaucratic mess-up but that Germany’s opposition party is already on record in advance of the Gaggenau rally demanding that their government deny the Minister entry. There are 2.3 million Turks living in 57 countries outside Turkey and legally entitled to cast a vote in the forthcoming referendum. The largest community of expats is in Germany and came to Germany at Germany’s request. Cologne’s decision about the visit of the Turkish Economy minister looks political whatever excuse is provided. More than that, it is the same city which prevented President Erdoğan from addressing supporters by video link after the FETÖ coup last year, and that had meanwhile allowed a senior PKK commander Murat Karayılan to address a rally at a culture festival. PKK is a group that both the EU and the US label as a terrorist organisation and yet it still able to raise nearly £12 million in Germany alone. The EU approach is inconsistent and insulting. It is not calculated to win hearts and minds.
Mr Erdoğan has already reacted with fairly fierce rhetoric but his real response may well be to “open the gates” allowing migrants back into mainland Europe. Already, the EU has indicated that Turkey does not meet the requirements agreed last year for visa-free travel in Europe. Turkey has already shouldered the migrant-burden and should get something more than snubs for its goodwill.
Is it wrong for one country to appeal to expat voters by holding rallies in another country? The present Papacy, for example, has built its entire ministry on the principle that it can hold rallies anywhere in the world. But certainly, when Turkish Prime Minster Binali Yildirim spoke to 10,000 countrymen in Oberhausen in February, a debate was sparked across Continental Europe.
Yet rallies to support foreign groups take place all over the place- indeed, there is a german anti-Islamic group called Pegida, led by Lutz Bachmann, which has now launched its own political party (FDDV with links to AfD) and which has held rallies here in the UK – rather pleasingly, while it commands rallies of up to 25,000 in places like Dresden, only 375 people marched to support the group in Newcastle, and an estimated 2000 Brits staged a counter-demonstration. That’s surely the way democracy should work!
This evening the family minister, Dr Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, already in Germany for other talks, was denied access to the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. The Consular staff are not allowed to meet her and she is also so far not allowed into her own Consulate. Instead, the Dutch authorities have invited her to be escorted out of the country. Presumably, she was not stopped on the German border: none of this makes alot of sense but it most certainly raises tension; already Geert Wilders has gone public with a cry to “Clean our country” referring to the Turkish protestors as “500 allahu akbar screaming Turks in Rotterdam”. This was action calculated to play into the hands of Right wing bigots and it has. I am deeply shocked. This is not the sort of Europe I think we should be seeing. It is certainly not the sort of Europe I could ever or would ever support.