Analysis

Netherlands-Turkey Crisis Only Plays Into the Hands of Both Leaders

Erdogan gives Dutch premier Rutte a golden opportunity to embrace some of the rhetoric of the provocative nationalist Geert Wilders regarding Muslim migrants, while also bolstering Turkish leader’s camp.

Dutch Prime Minister Rutte and Turkish President Erdogan.
AP, AFP

Police training in the Netherlands doesn’t include dealing with a furious foreign politician trying to reach her country’s consulate in Rotterdam in order to attend a rally, the holding of which was prohibited by the Dutch government. However, the lack of such training did not make the policemen who arrested Turkey’s minister of family affairs Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya lose their Dutch cool. But in contrast to the policemen who surrounded the Turkish consulate, Holland’s leaders found it harder to keep their cool in response to the Turkish provocation, thus playing into Erdogan’s hands.

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The official reason for deciding to ban the holding of a rally supporting changes in Turkey’s constitution, preventing the landing of Turkey’s foreign minister and the detention of Turkey’s family affairs minister close to the consulate in Rotterdam was to prevent a threat to national security and avoid increasing tensions between Erdogan’s supporters and opponents on Dutch soil. The Dutch also voiced their objection to political activity by Turkish officials within the Netherlands and expressed concerns over harm that will be caused to Turkish democracy if the changes planned by Erdogan are enacted.

However, the Dutch prime minister also admitted that the real reason for the tough stance they took against Turkey was that the Dutch “don’t give in to threats,” such as that uttered by Turkey’s foreign minister after the cancellation of the rally he meant to attend. Actually, it seems that the reasons that motivated the Dutch prime minister to appear tough against the Turks are connected to internal Dutch politics and the elections due to be held in three days.

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Mark Rutte, the right-wing party head who wishes to keep his seat as prime minister, has for months been contending with a growing threat from his right flank, posed by the Freedom Party led by the provocative Geert Wilders. Rutte has embraced some of Wilders’ rhetoric concerning migrants in the Netherlands, and this rightward turn has helped him close the gap in public opinion polls, enabling him to take the lead for the first time in months.

And then along came Erdogan and his people, giving Rutte a golden opportunity to show how tough he is against Muslims, without violating the human or civil rights of Dutch citizens who do not follow the path of Jesus. Wilders did tweet a call for Turks to follow their deported minister and leave as well, but Rutte can take credit for his courageous stand against the volatile Middle Eastern leader.

It’s hard to say if Rutte’s tough stance will help him in the polls or whether, as some analysts believe, the emphasis on the confrontation between the Netherlands and a Muslim government will strengthen Wilders. It’s clear that given the current political map in the Netherlands and in view of the looming elections, Rutte would have needed much more courage not to choose a confrontational stance, risking taking flak from his right. This is precisely the courage required of a leader who is truly concerned about Turkey’s democracy and considers Erdogan’s planned changes a threat.

Even if the impact on Dutch politics of the Turkish-Dutch clash, which social media have romantically labelled “the tulip crisis,” is not yet clear, there is no doubt that it has bolstered Erdogan and his camp. Testimony to this is the fact that even the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party called on Turks living in Holland to demonstrate and protest the “Dutch insult to Turkey’s honor.”