By Michael Hornsby
According to a report in Habertürk today, the AKP’s Central Executive Committee decided at a meeting on March 21 to stop campaigning in Europe in the run up to the April 16 referendum over changes to the constitution of Turkey. “There is no need to strain any more, we have conducted an active and effective campaign. The purpose has been met. We won’t go [to Europe] anymore”, the committee said, according to the Habertürk report.
Plans by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote among the Turkish diaspora in Europe have sparked a diplomatic crisis between Ankara and European governments in recent weeks. President Erdoğan has repeatedly called Germany and The Netherlands ‘Nazis’ and ‘Fascists’ after his ministers were barred from holding rallies in the countries.
However, the committee’s decision does not mean that the war of words between Ankara and Europe is over.
In an interview with Turkish daily Hürriyet published Tuesday, Turkey’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik responded to comments made by Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, in German daily Bild that the proposed constitutional changes meant President Erdogan was turning his back on Turkey’s stalled accession processes to the EU.
“It is not his place to talk about the President of Turkey like that. He is being presumptious, and making statements which do not suit political principles. I don’t believe that he has read and understood the changes to the constitution in Turkey… The EU Englargement Commisar will not decide whether Turkey will change it’s system or not… He should not think he is the colonial commissioner. He misunderstands this position,” Çelik told Hürriyet.
Germany has been the particular focus of Turkey’s anger towards the bloc, after Bruno Kahlmade, the head of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) said that Ankara had failed to convince Berlin that the Gülen organisation, known as FETÖ in Turkey, was behind the July 15 coup attempt. İbrahim Kalın, President Erdoğan’s spokesperson, told CNN Turk that Khalmade’s statement was a sign of the German government’s “support for FETÖ”.
A rally in Frankfurt at the weekend, at which pro-Kurdish demonstrators carried flags bearing the image of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed PKK terrorist organisation, has further inflamed tensions. Salih Muslim, the co-leader of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), spoke at the March 18 event.
As a result, Germany is now being woven into an anti-Turkish conspiracy which encompasses the PKK, FETÖ, ISIS and the USA. A columnist in the pro-AKP English-language Daily Sabah went as far as to suggest that European states were “sponsors” of the groups behind the spate of deadly terror attacks which have struck Turkey in the past two years.
If, as many commentators were quick to point out, standing up to Europe over the so-called ‘Tulip crisis’ with the Netherlands enabled President Erdoğan appeal to undecided right-wing voters in Turkey, then the opportunity to connect the argument with Berlin to both FETÖ and the PKK offers him a potentially even stronger tool.
As a recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Centre notes, “appeals to popular suspicions about domestic and foreign plots have… proven highly effective in galvanizing support for Turkish nationalism and a unitary Turkish state. Partisanship and factional politics, be they ideological or personal, have long been seen as providing the seeds for treasonous plots or foreign subversion.”
As President Erdoğan attempts to rally a majority of Turkish voters to unite behind him as Executive President, it pays for him to have friends at home, and enemies abroad.