Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is holding a referendum, April 16, over controversial changes to the country's constitution — effectively handing him more power — with a new executive presidency replacing the office of the prime minister.
In an attempt to gain support for his plans from Turkish citizens living in Europe — with significant numbers in Germany and the Netherlands in particular — Erdogan has been using politicians — and his ministers — to promote them in rallies in both countries.
However, some rallies in Germany have been canceled by the authorities and the Dutch have also banned Turkey's Mevlut Cavusoglu from entering the country and preventing Turkish Family Minister from attending a meeting in Rotterdam where she was due to meet representatives of the Turkish community.
The issue has made Turkish-EU relations even worse than they have been since the signing of the EU-Turkish migrant deal, which was intended to stem the flow of migrants crossing from Turkey into Europe.
The deal is supposed to allow for the return of migrants refused asylum — or not claiming it — in Greece to Turkey. But this was contingent on accelerating Turkish accession into the EU. However, it has already stumble over human rights issues and a clampdown by Erdoğan on the opposition and the media — especially following the attempted coup, July 2016.
Former Belgian Prime Minister and leader of the Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), Guy Verhofstadt, has now called on the European Council and the Commission to freeze the accession negotiations with Turkey — especially after Erdogan accused Germany of Nazi tactics in banning rallies and accusing the Dutch Government of being fascist.
"It is very cynical that Erdogan calls the Netherlands 'fascist,' while at the same time he turns Turkey into an autocratic state. He asks for freedom of speech in Europe for his Ministers, but at the same time he is jailing critical journalists. Europe must unite and put pressure on Erdogan to free the German journalist Deniz Yucel immediately. Instead of more declarations, we must freeze the accession negotiations with Turkey now," Verhofstadt said.
Time to freeze accession negotiations with Turkey. Europe won't be threatened by a tyrant who imprisons journalists.— Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) March 15, 2017
Deniz Yucel is a German-Turkish journalist working for Die Welt newspaper, who has been detained in Turkey on charges of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting public violence.