Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says “the spirit of fascism is running wild” in Europe, and he is threatening to tear up last year’s migrant deal with the European Union.
Erdogan is seething with anger after two key EU members, Germany and the Netherlands, prevented officials of his government from holding political rallies for Turkish emigres living and working in Europe. The rallies were intended to build support for a constitutional referendum next month in Turkey that would greatly expand the president’s powers.
“Europe is heading toward being drowned in its own fears,” Erdogan said in a televised speech Wednesday. “Turkophobia is mounting. Islamaphobia is mounting. They are even scared of migrants who take shelter there.”
Erdogan said Turkey may back out of last year’s agreement with the EU, which guaranteed Turks visa-free travel across Europe and promised to accelerate the pace of long-running talks on Turkey’s bid to join the EU. In return, Turkey had pledged that it would take back migrants and refugees who crossed into Greece – the main portal to Europe for families displaced by conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Turkey has already stopped re-admitting refugees turned away from Europe, because the EU’s promised visa-free travel for Turkish nationals has not yet come to pass.
The deal on refugees had been praised as a way to prevent any repeat of the surge of hundreds of thousands of migrants who poured into Europe in 2015. The refugee tide two years ago caused political controversy in a number of EU states – and indirectly led to the rise of far-right movements in a number countries.
Erdogan’s free-wheeling comments about “vestiges of the Nazis” still visible in Europe have hugely offended the Dutch, according to media reports, particularly since their country was bombed and occupied by Nazi forces during World War II, when the death toll among Dutch citizens surpassed 200,000.
Analysts both in Turkey and abroad believe the Turkish president is exploiting his political dispute with the EU in order to drum up a strong vote of support for his proposed new constitution, enshrining presidential powers that Erdogan’s critics believe will give him near absolute power in Turkey.
Estimates of the number of expatriate Turks living in Europe range up beyond 4.5 million people, with many of them having the right to vote in their homeland’s referendum.