The Straits Times says

Talking turkey in others' backyards

For a nation that seeks to join the European Union, the actions of its president, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, towards key states on the continent can only be described as bizarre. He cannot insist his ministers be allowed to hold public rallies for the Turkish diaspora in European cities ahead of the April 16 referendum meant to legitimise his grip on power. Not surprisingly, Mr Erdogan has run afoul of several European states which have barred Turkish politicians from holding public rallies on their soil, for fear of tensions spreading in their expatriate communities.

The latest to thwart Mr Erdogan was the Netherlands, a Nato ally that headed for its own national election last Wednesday, which featured right- wing politicians campaigning on an anti-Islam plank. Mr Erdogan retaliated by suspending diplomatic ties with The Hague, two days after describing the Dutch as "Nazis". This week, he also charged the Dutch with responsibility over the Srebrenica massacre where thousands of Bosnian Muslims perished at the hands of Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Aside from being patently untrue - the Dutch peacekeeping force of a mere 110 was too small to prevent the onslaught - this is no way for Mr Erdogan to treat a nation whose firms are the biggest investors in his nation and one of the top sources of tourism.

Mr Erdogan has much personal skin in the game, which explains his impatience and rhetoric. The referendum next month is important for his effort to consolidate power and the Turkish diaspora in Europe is not small. The Netherlands hosts 400,000 Turks while Germany, a nation of 81 million, has more than 1.5 million.

The continuing and irksome unwillingness, or failure, of large sections of this group to integrate with their country of domicile has stoked tensions across the continent. Last year's Brexit vote was partly influenced by fears stoked by anti-immigrant groups that Turkey may join the EU in time, widening the flow from an acceptable trickle to an unwelcome flood.

Ankara must accept the legitimate restrictions imposed by other states. With so much tension around on immigration, globalisation and questions of identity, European states could do without being compelled to play host to the inflammatory rhetoric of poll-bound politicians from neighbouring states.

That said, neither Europe nor Turkey will gain from sharpening the rhetoric. The continent needs Turkey as a bridge between the West and Islamic civilisations. The powerful Turkish armed forces are also a useful check on Iran's attempt to influence the region. Turkey, for its part, is best off sticking with Nato rather than playing footsie with Russia, one of whose fighter planes it shot down in November 2015. Nothing less than the stability of Europe is at stake.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Talking turkey in others' backyards'. Print Edition | Subscribe