German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed the Netherlands in its diplomatic fight with Turkey as Nato’s chief called for alliance members to respect each other and the European Union urged Turkey to calm down.
The argument is over the Netherlands’ refusal to allow Turkish officials to campaign there for support among Turks who are eligible to vote in an April 16 referendum that would greatly expand the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr Erdogan’s strong reaction to scenes of Dutch police repelling Turkish protesters is fuelling nationalism back home and bolstering his image as a protector of Turkish people against a hostile world.
On Monday, Turkey’s foreign ministry formally protested over the treatment of a Turkish minister who was escorted out of the Netherlands after trying to attend a weekend referendum rally.
The ministry also objected to what it called a “disproportionate” use of force against demonstrators at a protest afterwards.
Mr Erdogan said later that two cabinet ministers would apply to the European human rights court over their treatment in the Netherlands, even though he did not think the court would rule in Turkey’s favor.
Turkey had a similar dispute with Germany last week, but the fight with the Netherlands comes as the Dutch prepare for an election on Wednesday pitting prime minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing PVV Party against far-right, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders’ party.
Mr Wilders had called on the Dutch government to bar Turkish ministers from the Netherlands until after the election.
Mr Rutte, who did not want to be seen backing down to Turkish threats, enraged Ankara by refusing to let Turkey’s foreign minister land in the Netherlands on Saturday and denying the country’s family and social policies minister access to the Turkish consulate in central Rotterdam.
Mr Erdogan vowed to retaliate against the Netherlands after claiming “Nazism is alive in the West”.
Mrs Merkel, speaking at a news conference in Munich, pledged her “full support and solidarity” to the Dutch, saying the Nazi gibes were “completely unacceptable”.
Mr Erdogan responded angrily. “Shame on you!” he said during an interview with A Haber television.
He renewed accusations that Germany supported “terrorists” battling Turkey and that it backed the “no” campaign in the Turkish referendum, arguing that Berlin did not want to see a strong Turkey emerge.
“Some of the European Union countries – let’s not put all of them in the same sack – unfortunately cannot stomach Turkey’s rise,” he said. “Sadly, Germany tops the list. Germany supports terror in a cruel way.”
He advised Turks living in Europe not to vote for parties he described as “enemies of Turkey”.
The European Union called on Turkey to “refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation”. Spokesman Margaritis Schinas added that it was essential to avoid escalation and to find ways to calm the situation.
In the television interview, Mr Erdogan repeated slurs against the Netherlands, saying: “Their Vienna Convention is their fascism. Their Nazism. We can say neo-Nazism.” He was referring to a 1961 international treaty on diplomatic relations.
Turkey is a candidate to join the European Union, although the membership negotiations have made little progress over the past decade. The country has become a vital partner in a deal with the EU to curb the passage of migrants and refugees from Turkey into Europe.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg urged all members of the alliance “to show mutual respect, to be calm and have a measured approach”.
The Dutch, meanwhile, issued a travel advisory to their citizens to “be alert and avoid gatherings and busy places throughout Turkey”.