The Turkish intervention

A new development you should be aware of: Turkish foreign minister Çavuşoğlu is planning a meeting in Rotterdam on 11th of March. The ostensible purpose of this meeting is getting Turks living in Holland to vote in the upcoming referendum on making Erdoğan essentially president for life, but it has consequences for Dutch (and German) politics as well.


Briefly, Erdoğan has called a referendum on 16th of April on his powers and on him staying in office even after two terms. In general, Turks living in Western Europe retain their Turkish nationality, and thus their vote. Turkish Dutch commonly vote in Turkish elections, and I assume the same goes for Germany.

To give you an idea of the electoral strength involved, here are some numbers for Turkish(-descent) Western European countries:

  1. Germany: 4 million, of which 2.8 million hold a Turkish passport. About 5% of the population.
  2. France: 500,000. About 0.7% of the population.
  3. UK: 500,000. About 0.7% of the population.
  4. Netherlands: 400,000. About 2.5% of the population.
  5. Austria: 300,000. About 3.5% of the population.
  6. Belgium: 200,000. About 2% of the population.

Thus, Germany has the most, both in an absolute and in a relative sense. Then, in relative terms, comes Austria, then the Netherlands. If they’d all vote, Turkish Dutch would be good for about 3-4 seats. Of course, not all of them have the Dutch nationality, and even those who do turn out in lower numbers than the average Dutch.

The Turkish government has a long history of trying to keep Turks living in Western Europe attached to and interested in their mother country. Recently, it seems that Erdoğan has stepped up this game. His internal enemy, the Gülen movement, is also under fire in Western Europe from Erdoğan’s loyal followers. I haven’t followed all the stages and twists of this conflict, but suffice it to say it’s a hot topic in the Turkish communities in Western Europe, and occasionally spills over to the rest of us.


Also, elections are looming in both the Netherlands and Germany. It’s hard to see this latest initiative wholly outside that context, even though the ostensible purpose of the meetings is the Turkish referendum.

Last week, a similar meeting of foreign minister Çavuşoğlu in Germany was cancelled by the small town it was going to be held in, citing security issues, as well as the fact that far more people than the expected 400 would turn up. Also, Turkey arrested a German-Turkish journalist who had the temerity to be critical of one of the Turkish cabinet ministers. Since then German-Turkish relations have become even more frosty.

Now we have the same problem. Prime minister Rutte was clear: we don’t want any foreign ministers campaigning in our country during our elections. So here’s where we stand right now; and Çavuşoğlu hotly replied that the Dutch government cannot stop him. (It can. And, in the current state of political flux, it will.)

Political implications

Which domestic political implications does this story have?


First, obviously, DENK, the party for non-white Dutch founded by two Turkish former PvdA MPs. Recently DENK has been cast in a negative light, being accused of employing Twitter trolls to attack their internal enemies in the Turkish community. Çavuşoğlu’s visit puts them in a quandary. On the one hand, their Turkish voters expect DENK to welcome him. On the other hand, the whites will mistrust DENK if they do.

Also, DENK was originally supposed to unite non-white Dutch, as well as their white sympathisers, in a call for more equality and less racism in Dutch society. This noble purpose received its first setback when, back in December, Sylvana Simons, a black TV personality, left the party to found her own because she felt the DENK leadership was too confrontational.

Since then it is unclear which non-white groups support DENK. Turks, for sure, but which other ones? In this light, Çavuşoğlu’s visit, and potential DENk support for him, could become a problem. It is entirely unclear how non-Turkish non-whites feel about Ankara’s political power play, and about a party that supports that power play.

In any case, supporting Erdoğan in any form will remove DENK from the coalition negotiations. (Not that they have a huge chance of being involved, but the slim chance they had will be gone.) We expect members of Dutch parliament to be loyal to the Netherlands first and foremost, not to a foreign fascist ruler.

Rutte the statesman

The second potential result is a sudden, uncommon closing of ranks from left to populist right around Rutte in order to prevent Turkish meddling in our elections. If Rutte were to cancel the meeting he’d have the overwhelming support of the entire political spectrum. He should not waste this opportunity to be the wise statesman doing what’s good for the country.

What will the result be? It’s too soon to say, and it depends on how this story plays out. But an unexpected, and very welcome, bump for the VVD is within the realm of the possible.

Stay tuned.

<— Small fry, 2 March | Debate results —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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