Dutch-Turkish Diplomatic Confrontation: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Written by | Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Never have the Dutch elections been monitored so closely by the international community as the 15 March general elections to elect all 150 members of the House of Representatives. The possibility of the rise of the Party for Freedom, a nationalist and right-wing populist political party, kept observers on their toes.

On top of harsh populist and anti-migrant rhetoric, the run-up to the election had been characterized by the Dutch-Turkish diplomatic incident triggered by Turkish efforts to hold political rallies in the Netherlands and subsequent travel restrictions placed by Amsterdam on Turkish officials seeking to back up the campaign among Turkish nationals living in the Netherlands for a “yes” vote in the upcoming Turkish constitutional referendum.

While the skirmishes between European capitals and Ankara have recently become sort of a norm, the Dutch-Turkish conflict is unusual mainly due to its vivid rhetoric. Famous for their prudent and, as some even call it, boring style of diplomacy, the attitude of the Dutch government towards Ankara was for the first time been very different from what was a norm before – no longer lenient but persistently non-compromising. While it is not yet clear whether the effects of the crisis will disappear soon or will become a more enduring phenomenon, there are already lessons that can be learned from this unprecedented skirmish.

First, Mark Rutte won the election but populism has been the primary winner of the diplomatic incident – the crisis will likely prompt the Dutch authorities to pay a close attention to Turkey debates, as well as encourage more intensive anti-Turkish sentiments within the populist party. Second, the crisis can also have a reverse effect on some voter groups, and third, the Turkish government will likely steer clear from any economic sanction – this is simply because, as the Turkish Statistical Institute, in 2016, Turkey exported $3.6 billion worth goods to, and imported $3 billion worth goods from the Netherlands. This made the Netherlands the 10th largest market for Turkey’s exports.

Fourth, refugees and diaspora Turks have been the main victims of the incidents involving Turkish migrants in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, having been heavily instrumentalized not only by the two governments, but also by the media. Fifth, with European debates on Turkey polarizing the society and mainstream politics in crisis, as it is slowly adapting to populism to win over populism, in Mark Rutte’s words – “the wrong kind of populism” – the Dutch-Turkish diplomatic confrontation is likely to echo in other mainstream parties in Europe, particularly those facing elections.

‘Lessons Learned: The Netherlands-Turkey Crisis in 5 Points’ – Opinion by Melike Janine Sökmen – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB).

(The Opinion can be downloaded here)


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