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Turkey and Holland’s ‘Nazi’ spat explained

People stage a protest against Dutch authorities
Salih Zeki Fazlioglu | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
People stage a protest against Dutch authorities

Political tensions between Turkey and the Netherlands reached new levels over the weekend when Turkey's President described Holland as a banana republic just days before the country is due to elect its new Prime Minister. Here's everything you need to know.

Why are the countries at odds?

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the Netherlands of Nazism and vowed harsh retaliation on Sunday after two Turkish ministers were barred from campaigning in Rotterdam in a bid to drum up support ahead of an upcoming Turkish referendum.

The Dutch government first banned Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from flying to Rotterdam Saturday and later stopped Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam amid concerns that the visits were undesirable and would cause unrest in the days before Holland is set to hold its general election.

The ministers had planned to appeal to Turkish immigrants in the port city as part of on-going efforts by the Turkish government to secure backing for a vote next month which seeks to expand Turkish presidential powers.

President Erdoğan called the Dutch government "Nazi remnants" and "fascists" and called for sanctions against the country for what it described as unacceptable behaviour. The comments come days after the President accused Germany of "Nazi practices" after it prevented similar campaigning.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded by saying he would do everything to "de-escalate" the diplomatic confrontation, which led to overnight protests within the Netherlands' Turkish community.

How this impacts the Netherlands

The latest spat between Turkey and Europe comes just days before the Netherlands holds its general election on Wednesday, March 15.

The incumbent Dutch government said that the decision to ban the ministerial visits came amid concerns that Turkish political divisions could flow over into its own Turkish minority, which has both pro- and anti-Erdoğan camps.

Already, the Netherlands faces strong internal divisions, with rising nationalist sentiment having propelled far-right electoral candidate Geert Wilders to the front of the race alongside Prime Minister Rutte.

Shortly after Minister Kaya was escorted out of Holland on Saturday, Wilders wrote on Twitter "go away and never come back."

How this impacts Turkey

Turkey's referendum is scheduled for April 16 and seeks to turn Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, giving the President greater powers, including the ability to appoint ministers, prepare the budget and enact certain laws.

Supporters of the bill argue that reforms would streamline decision-making and avoid parliamentary coalitions which they claim have previously held back Turkey's progress.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Adem Altan | AFP | Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

However, opponents suggest that the move would place disproportionate powers in the hands of a government which it fears its already sliding towards authoritarianism.

Current opinion polls suggest that the Turkish electorate is currently evenly divided on the reforms, with approximately 40 percent intending to vote Yes and another 40 percent planning to vote No. A further 20 percent remain undecided.

By staging campaigns among Turkish immigrants across Europe, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany where a significant number of constituents reside, it is hoped that the government will rally support for the changes.

What the dispute means for diplomatic relations

The weekend's events mark a troubling turn for diplomatic relations between the two Nato allies, with analysts criticising the short-termism rhetoric employed by Turkey.

"President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are prepared to seek short-term domestic political gains at the cost of severe damage to the country's long-term commercial, economic and political interests," said Teneo Intelligence in a press note.

The Netherlands has long been one of the key sources of foreign direct investment in Turkey, representing around 14 percent of the cumulative total – a commitment which has continued to rise despite flailing interest from other countries.

Speaking to CNBC Monday, Eric Lonergan, fund manager at M&G Investments, encouraged politicians to "dial down the rhetoric" to ensure continued support from investors.

"Turkey would do itself some huge favours by speaking in a very different way, because there's huge risk premium that's already been priced in."

However, other commentators argue that Turkey's demonstrations are crucial to democratic freedoms.

Ziya Meral, Turkish-British researcher and writer, condemned the situation on Twitter as damaging to diplomacy and democracy."

Unlike the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, France and Sweden permitted campaigning. Sweden's minister of culture and democracy, Alice Bah Kunhke, said that a recent visit by the international secretary of Turkey's AKP party as within his rights to "freedom of speech and right to assembly."

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