Trans-Europe Express: The charge of fascism – Erdogan vs Germany

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

Normally, the accusation is reversed. Erdogan undoubtedly knew that when he accused Germany on Sunday of “fascist actions” typical of the Nazi era, for cancelling rallies to drive support for an April referendum granting himself broad new powers.

Yet, the significance of reversing the hackneyed War on Terror reference, ‘Islamofascism’, got lost in the media frenzy, as Germany’s political echelon recoiled in horror at being tarred with such a deliberately offensive jibe.

Few slurs have been more misused of late in German politics, in reference to Merkel and her coalition’s diversity-friendly politics and response to the refugee crisis, coming, more often than not, from right-wing extremists.

But here was one of the world’s most powerful Muslim leaders, dishing out the same dirt. The Turkish president might as well have been repping for the populist Alternative für Deutschland party. The rhetoric was the same.

Though Merkel and her lieutenants did their best to appear conciliatory, there was an uncharacteristic amount of condescension in their responses, which could not help but highlight the sense of superiority the Turkish president was targeting.

One unnamed CDU official went so far as to call Erdogan “childish”, while a CSU leader predictably went for the jugular, calling him the “despot of the Bosporus”, as though to confirm the Turkish leader’s point that the Germans are disrespectful.

Yet, the affair did what it was supposed to do. Germany’s political echelon walked right into Erdogan’s trap and helped legitimate the sense of siege and victimisation the AKP chief continually appeals to in his efforts to scale back Turkish democracy.

It’s impossible to have imagined the Germans responding differently. This was a deliberately crass manoeuvre, meant for domestic political consumption, with a very limited scope for enlightened responses. Particularly during an election season, in which immigration, and Islam, are enormously charged topics.

Predictably, little, if any deference was paid to how it would help tarnish the image of Turkish Germans and reinforce resentment of Muslims. Inevitably, Erdogan’s insouciance would be a boon to German populists, and those members of Merkel’s governing CDU party who remain uncomfortable with her pro-refugee agenda.

But you get what you pay for. To have assumed that the Turkish president would not impact or harm this German government’s efforts to promote tolerance and the right to asylum remains a terrible mistake, in keeping with the EU’s head-scratching reliance on Erdogan to help manage the refugee crisis.

How could Germany not expect such rhetoric from the man who deliberately reignited Turkey’s civil war with its Kurdish population? Aside from being its own obvious refugee driver, the nationalist ideology behind it smacks entirely of fascism. The exact kind that Erdogan reproaches Germany for remaining guilty of.

This ought to be the biggest takeaway from Erdogan’s charge. The fascism tag remains relevant, not just because he is using it as cover for his own politics, but because many of the crises associated with it have returned and are being contributed to, in different ways, by everybody.


Hard to stay excited. Support for EU accession among Serbians is falling, and it may be a result of a loss of confidence in the chances of being admitted, a recent poll by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) shows.

Belgrade calling. Democracy is in crisis throughout the EU. But the version taking shape in south-eastern Europe is especially problematic. A new authoritarianism, mixing nationalism and neoliberalism, is taking shape there, and Brussels ought to take the lead in stopping it.

Restating the obvious. The EU warned that the Western Balkans risk becoming a “chessboard” in a game with Moscow, as Britain accused Russia of meddling in the region. Federica Mogherini said there was “profound” concern about a region where historic tensions were coming to a boil again.

Freedom is so 20th Century. Civil society is an essential part of any functioning democracy. While Budapest talks of dialogue and free debate, its actions speak of a slide towards authoritarianism, writes Neil Campbell.

They just want Russian money. Hungary does not care about the requirements imposed by the European Commission on Paks II, energy analyst András Deák told EURACTIV Slovakia’s Pavol Szalai.

Gag order. European Parliament Vice-President Ramón Luis Valcárcel (EPP) wanted to impose a “tough penalty” on Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, whose repeated misogynistic tirades have become an embarrassment to the institution. He got his wish on Thursday, according to S&D chief Gianni Pittella.

So much for the Cold War. Poland’s mainstream parties are increasingly out of tune with voters, according to a new survey. Unsurprisingly, the most popular hail from the far right and, unfortunately, own the youth vote, writes Karolina Zbytniewska.

Redistribute the foie gras. Food quality in Western Europe can differ greatly to what Central and Eastern European shops stock on their shelves. S&D MEP Daciana Sârbu spoke to EURACTIV Romania about the issue and promoting local produce.

Blame the Russians. European Union foreign ministers on Monday approved the setting up of a central headquarters for joint EU military missions. As the EU contends with the refugee crisis and rising rightwing populism, the appetite for more defence at European level has escalated.

Never trust a superpower. The EU must counter the “big lies” coming from countries such as Russia and the United States, which “destabilise” the bloc, European Parliament Vice-President Ramon Luis Valcárcel Siso told EURACTIV Spain.

The Americans are impossible. Donald Trump’s Republicans are preparing reforms that would significantly affect the rules of trade throughout the world. Aktuálně.cz, on how it looks from Prague.

Told you so. Curbs on civil liberties, both online and in everyday life, prove to be a “recruiting tool for extremists”, MEPs heard on Wednesday night, at a debate on combatting violent extremism and restoring citizenship.

Why not include banlieues? Slums develop in response to poor city planning and a lack of affordable housing. While they exist all over the world, up to 90% of the population of the poorest countries live in these insecure settlements, Pierre-Arnaud Barthel told EURACTIV France.

Views are the author’s.

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