Turkey on Wednesday (15 March) threatened once again to scrap a critical deal on halting the flow of migrants to the EU amid a spiralling war of words between Ankara and the bloc.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the “spirit of fascism” was running rampant in Europe, the latest in a series of incendiary verbal attacks that have left EU politicians aghast and sparked calls for moderation.
Turkey and the European Union have become embroiled in an explosive crisis after key EU members The Netherlands and Germany blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies to back constitutional changes expanding Erdoğan’s powers in a 16 April referendum.
Erdoğan has repeatedly accused the two countries of behaving like “Nazis”, drawing a firm response from EU chief who on Wednesday blasted his comments as “detached from reality” and incompatible with Turkey’s ambitions to join the bloc.
But far from stepping back, Erdoğan ratcheted his rhetoric up a further notch, comparing the treatment of non-Europeans in Europe to that of the Jews in World War II and pointing to the rise of far-right populist politicians on the continent.
“The spirit of fascism is running wild on the streets of Europe,” Erdoğan said in a televised speech.
“Europe is heading towards being drowned in its own fears,” the president added. “Turkophobia is mounting. Islamophobia is mounting. They are even scared of migrants who take shelter there.”
‘We can stop migrant deal’
Under the March 2016 migrant deal, Turkey agreed to tighten its maritime borders and also break up the people-smuggling networks that had helped migrants to make the risky crossing across the Aegean to Greece – the starting point of the trek to northern Europe.
But Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told 24 TV in an interview that Turkey was ready to walk away from the accord given the current crisis.
“We can stop it (the deal) unilaterally. We have not yet informed our (EU) counterparts, all of this is in our hands,” he said.
Ankara threatened to scrap the deal many times before.
He lambasted the EU for failing to allow Turks visa-free travel in return, an incentive promised to Turkey if it fulfilled its side of the bargain.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey was no longer implementing a key part of the deal, whereby it took back migrants who landed on the Greek islands as a deterrent.
“Right now we are not implementing the readmission agreement as there is no visa-free travel,” said Çavuşoğlu.
The deal has been praised for preventing a repeat of the surge of migrants seen into Europe in 2015 that fanned the popularity of the far-right.
Several top Twitter accounts – ranging from Germany’s Borussia Dortmund football club, tennis legend Boris Becker, Amnesty International, the French economy ministry and BBC North America – were defaced by pro-Turkey hackers with a message slamming “Nazi Germany” and “Nazi Holland”.
“#NaziGermany. #NaziHolland. This is a small #Ottomanslap for you. See you on #April16. I wrote what? Learn Turkish.”
The message also featured a swastika and was followed by a video showing extracts of Erdoğan speeches.
According to legend, an Ottoman slap was a barehanded technique used in the Ottoman army that was strong enough to kill an opponent on the spot.
Twitter confirmed the attack. There was no immediate claim for the current mass cyberattack.
‘Outcome not so sure’
Turkey has suspended high-level relations with The Netherlands and blocked its ambassador – currently outside the country – from returning to his post.
Many in The Netherlands – a country bombed and occupied by the Nazis in World War II – were hugely offended by Erdoğan’s comment that the country still had “vestiges of the Nazis”.
Analysts believe Erdoğan is exploiting the crisis to bring out nationalist votes and ensure victory in the 16 April referendum on the new constitution that opponents fear will create one-man rule in Turkey.
Jean Marcou, professor at Sciences Po Grenoble in France, said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was deliberately playing up the row as it was “not so sure of the result on April 16.”
Erdoğan Tuesday angered The Hague by bringing up the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, where Dutch UN peacekeepers failed to prevent the killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs.
On Wednesday he went further, accusing the Netherlands of massacring over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica.
“They have nothing to do with civilisation,” Erdoğan said in a new onslaught against the Netherlands. “They are the ones who massacred over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.”
Erdoğan, whose country has for half a century tried to join the EU in an agonisingly slow process, said Europe after World War II claimed they “turned a new page for themselves and for the world” by forming the EU.
But he said: “They have emptied the European Union from inside with their attitude toward us.”