It was in the month of December, back in 1999, just in the aftermath of the European Union's traditional summit. Turkey's situation vis-à-vis the European Union was at a delicate stage. Having been kept aside from the enlargement process alongside 13 other candidate countries, the Turkish government suspended its political relations with the EU unilaterally. The Helsinki Summit wanted to break up this deadlock by granting Turkey "candidate" status. More exactly, by reasserting Turkish candidacy already contained in the Association Agreement. The wording of the summit declaration was: "The European Council welcomes recent positive developments in Turkey as noted in the Commission's progress report, as well as its intention to continue its reforms towards complying with the Copenhagen criteria. Turkey is a candidate State destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to the other candidate States."
The long-awaited breakthrough was however not welcomed as such by Ankara, where Prıme Minister Bülent Ecevit's coalition government was not sure about accepting the conclusions of the Council pertaining to the membership of Cyprus. It was a terribly stormy night all over Europe, in spite of the terrible weather and dangerous travelling conditions, Council Secretary-General Xavier Solana and the European Commissioner Gunter Verheugen took a private flight at midnight to Ankara, to convince Turkish authorities to normalize relations with the EU. Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu flight was not permitted to land in the Netherlands by the Dutch authorities. Çavuşoğlu was thus declared "persona non grata." To add insult to injury Family Affairs Minister, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, was extradited to Germany when she attempted to reach the Rotterdam Turkish General Consulate by land.
How did such a diplomatic scandal erupt without anybody being able to stop the escalation? The whole story started with a skirmish in Germany, where political authorities do not want President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to hold large meetings and give political messages. It is a fact that Erdoğan enjoys wide support among the Turkish diaspora in Germany (and in the other European countries where there are sizeable Turkish communities). This is quite unprecedented. Turkish political leaders rarely invested too much energy or time into the Turkish community in Europe before 2003, therefore Erdoğan remains today Euroturks' "champion," he probably enjoys much wider popularity in Germany than at home. This is not to the liking of German authorities, who already have important integration problems with their minorities. They were followed by Austrian and Dutch authorities who did not at all look favorably on the presence of Turkish politicians in their respective homelands, where most of the Turkish residents have dual nationality.
A second important factor is the "Erdoğan style" of eruptions in diplomatic relations. This started with the famous "one minute" reaction in Davos against the late Shimon Peres, where Erdoğan publicly and extremely strongly condemned the Gaza bombings by the Israeli army. It created a true diplomatic scandal but earned Erdoğan immense popularity in Muslim countries. This time, when German authorities (though carefully) tried to prevent him from holding meetings in Germany for a "yes" vote in the coming referendum, President Erdoğan did not chew his words. He accused Germany of using racist methods. German authorities did not respond to the verbal attack directly, by declaring that it was "unacceptable." But the Minister of Foreign Affairs Çavuşoğlu could hold a small meeting in the premises of the Turkish Consulate General. He also had a meeting with Sigmar Gabriel, his German counterpart.
With public opinion white hot in Europe and in Turkey, Minister Çavuşoğlu challenged the Dutch authorities to try to prevent his visit to Rotterdam. In their outspoken way, the Dutch authorities not only prevented the meeting but also repudiated another minister entering their country. Dutch authorities also been warned that the "harshest retaliatory measures" would be taken against them.
The whole crisis is getting out of hand. Austrian and Swiss local authorities are going to prevent meetings from being held. However Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu visited Metz in France and held a meeting with the Turkish community there. This will perhaps defuse the existing tension between Turkey and German and Dutch authorities a little. The consequences of such a crisis are difficult to foresee and obviously everyone, Turkey and the EU, will lose in this conflict. Invoking the rise of the far-right to prevent Turkish authorities holding meetings is definitely not a good idea. France, where the extreme-right is on the rise, could handle the situation with dexterity. Let us hope that common sense will prevail sooner and what can be mended is mended.