News & Politics

Turkey and the Netherlands Talk to Improve Relations After Diplomatic Row

Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, Turkey's Minister of Family Affairs, who was escorted back to the German border after a long standoff outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, speaks to the media at Ataturk Airport after her return to Turkey, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 12, 2017. (AP Photo)

In the spring of 2017, Turkey and the Netherlands had a major diplomatic confrontation with each other. The Turkish minister of family affairs wanted to come to the Netherlands to campaign for a Turkish referendum on the role of the country’s president. President Erdogan wanted to expand his own powers but needed the approval of Turkish voters. Since many Turks living in the Netherlands have two passports (Dutch and Turkish), they’re eligible to vote in both countries.

The Dutch government wasn’t having any of it. With elections coming up in the Netherlands and passions flying, The Hague was convinced that a massive pro-Erdogan rally in the city of Rotterdam would cause public unrest — and possibly even riots. That’s why it was decided that Turkish ministers would not get permission to campaign in the Netherlands.

Regardless, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya tried to travel to the city of Rotterdam, where the Turkish consulate is located. Believing Kaya to have been declared “an unwanted alien” by the Dutch government (which was not the case; they were working on it, but hadn’t done so yet), Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb did everything in his power to ensure she would never reach her country’s consulate. In the end, she came close, but the police wouldn’t let her in. Ever since, the Dutch and Turkish governments have been waging a war of words with each other. The Hague has accused the Turks of being too involved with Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands and other countries, while Ankara accused the Dutch of behaving like Nazis. Eventually, the Dutch ambassador was told he was no longer welcome in Turkey. It was a rather curious situation considering that the Netherlands and Turkey are both NATO members and therefore need to talk with each other.

Well, according to Dutch newspapers, the Turkish and Dutch governments are talking to each other again. The Dutch government has reached out to Ankara in order to explain its position and, possibly, to apologize for its treatment of Kaya.

In response to the Dutch overtures, Turkish President Erdogan has said that having a healthy relationship with the Netherlands (and Germany) is important to Turkey, that he has no problem with those two countries, and that he may even visit them soon. In the meantime, however, there’s still some diplomacy to be done — the Dutch ambassador to Turkey is still working from an office in the Netherlands rather than in Ankara.

Although passions were flaring on both sides, it is in the interest of both countries involved to resolve the conflict. After all, not only are the Netherlands and Turkey NATO members, they also have close economic ties (Dutch corporations are important investors in Turkey) and cultural ties with many Turks living in the Netherlands.

Hardcore nationalists on both sides may not be happy with it, but as it is, having these two countries treat each other like enemies is counterproductive for both. Foreign policy isn’t about high-minded principles, but about protecting your interests. You can’t do so if you refuse to talk with each other.