Dutch diplomatic move strengthens Erdogan's anti-EU drive

The Dutch government’s announcement that it is officially withdrawing its ambassador to Turkey is an unexpected move that marks a dramatic deterioration in relations between the two NATO allies.

As a matter of fact, the Dutch ambassador has not had access to Ankara for almost a year, so his government’s decision means blocking the Turkish ambassador’s access to the Netherlands.

Beyond that, it has become clear that efforts to normalise ties between the two countries have collapsed. The rift was triggered when Dutch authorities refused to allow the Turkish foreign minister into the Netherlands to campaign for last year’s constitutional referendum and deported the family and social affairs minister.

''We have not been able to agree on the way normalisation should take place,” read a Dutch statement announcing the move.

What lies beneath the breakdown is unclear, but EU diplomatic sources in Brussels said the Turkish side had been insisting on a Dutch apology, while refusing to make any concessions.

But the symbolic value of the development is clear and it underlines the fact that Turkish-EU relations are going nowhere. The Netherlands is one of the six founding members of the EU, with a strong influence within the bloc.

The European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, Kati Piri is Dutch, as is the first deputy chairman of the European Commission. Piri has recommended accession talks with Turkey be suspended. The Netherlands is concerned about the collapse of human rights in Turkey and frustrated that polarisation there spills over onto its soil.

The breakdown is another symptom of Turkey’s symmetrical frustration over its stalled EU membership bid. In a recent interview with the Italian daily La Stampa, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan voiced these sentiments bluntly.

“Turkey has done everything it needed to do to fulfil criteria for entry into the European Union,” said Erdoğan in an interview.

“Accession however is a bilateral process, and the EU needs to start keeping its promises too ... The EU blocks the accession process and then blames Turkey for the lack of progress. This is unfair. Some European Union countries are also proposing to tailor alternatives to a full membership for Turkey, but this is also not fair.” 

“We want full membership of the EU. We won’t accept any other solution,” he said

When the interviewer pointed out that the EU cites the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey and its poor human record as reasons for the slow progress, Erdoğan said:

"I call on the EU to remove these artificial obstacles to our membership.''

After more than one-and-a-half years under a state of emergency and having regressed sharply from the Copenhagen Criteria for entry to the EU, these calls are likely to fall on deaf European ears.

But if there is a Turkish strategy behind the breakdown of Turkish-Dutch talks, due to the Turkish side's possible maximalist approach, the deadlock will serve Erdoğan well domestically, as he will find fertile new grounds to whip up anti-European sentiment. But if the Dutch side had conceded, it would also have helped his popularity. He is set to win, yet again.