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Jose Miguel Dias Rocha

In the June 24 Turkish presidential election, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan secured another five-year term by winning more than 50% of the votes. As it happened in former elections, in the European countries with the largest Turkish communities the vast majority voted overwhelmingly for him. After the results were known several European leaders congratulated Erdoğan on election victory, despite the well-known tensions between Ankara and some countries in Europe.

In Germany, 65% of the 650,000 voters backed Erdoğan[1]. Before the elections, Turkish politicians were denied permission from German’s government to campaign in the country (albeit a pro-Kurdish HDP, People’s Democratic Party, rally in Cologne was allowed – in the eyes of the Turkish government, the HDP is linked to the PKK, Kurdistan Workers Party) and a meeting between Turkey’s president and Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan, two football players of Turkish heritage who represent Germany in international football, has sparked a huge debate in the country on the integration of the largest Turkish community out of Turkey[2].

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a message sent to the elected Turkish president, underlined that “the upheavals in the Near and Middle East, and the consequent refugee flows, are significantly affecting our two countries. In that respect, Turkey has taken great responsibility” and said she was looking forward to continuing to work with Turkey[3].

However, Cem Özdemir, the most prominent German politician of Turkish descent, preferred to slam “the Turkish-German Erdoğan supporters [who] aren’t only celebrating their dictator, they are also expressing their rejection of liberal democratic values”[4]. The former leader of the German Greens has paved the way for a return to the eternal debate in Germany (“Why so many Turks in Germany vote for Erdoğan?”) intrinsically linked to the integration of the Turks who are living in the country. In one of the most popular German newspapers, “The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, one could read on the June 25 edition that “German politicians should reflect on their own part in a phenomenon that has led a group which has been living in Germany for decades to regard the head of another country as their leader”[5].

The Turkish voters in France did not differ from those in Germany: Support for Erdoğan was at 64.8 percent in the Hexagon (where, in total, around 160,000 Turks voted). The French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated the winner, wished “the Turkish people success in the economic and social development of their country and in the democratic functioning of their institutions” and emphasized the importance of a “calmer dialogue” between the European Union and Turkey[6]. In France, the period before the elections was marked by a controversy over a French magazine’s (Le Point) cover calling Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a “dictator”[7]. Some journalists working for that magazine claimed they suffered harassment and intimidation by pro-Erdoğan activists, which lead Macron to express his support for freedom of the press, labeling those incidents as “unacceptable”. In response, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said “the Turkish community in France has expressed its civilian and democratic reaction”, even though there were several protesters removing and covering up advertisements for the magazine at newsstands.

In the Netherlands, 73 percent of the 120,000 eligible voters supported the outgoing president. Like in Germany, Turkish election campaigns ahead of the polls were banned there. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he did not “want to import any problems from outside”, mentioning possible public order disruptions, a decision that drew criticism from the Turkish government[8]. Especially since the Dutch authorities prevented political rallies of Turkish politicians before the April 16 referendum last year, the diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Netherlands have been rocky. For instance, The Netherlands does not have an ambassador in Turkey since the beginning of February and, in February, the members of the Dutch parliament voted in favor of a motion recognizing the “Armenian genocide”, which prompted an angry reaction from the Turkish government.

It was in Belgium that Erdoğan obtained his best result in Europe: 75% among the 75,000 voters chose him. Turkey has been criticizing Belgium as it considers that the country fails to act against the PKK[9]. In 2017, the Belgian Court of Appeals decided that PKK members cannot be tried for terrorism links, a decision which was overturned later by Belgium’s Supreme Court. One year earlier, supporters of the PKK set up a tent outside EU buildings in Brussels, causing some diplomatic tensions as Turkey summoned the Belgian ambassador to complain about it.

Yet that is nothing compared to the strained relations between Austria and the Turkish government (and, actually, the Turkish community living in the country). The fact that more than 72% of the 52,000 Turkish voters expressed their preference for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan infuriated the populist Austrian Vice Chancellor and leader of the Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache who wrote on his Facebook account: “I recommend all the Turks in Austria who voted for Erdoğan should return to Turkey!”[10].  Along with Germany and the Netherlands, Austria bared Turkish politicians from campaigning on its soil ahead of June elections. In the eyes of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, “Erdoğan’s Turkish leadership has been trying to exploit Europe’s communities of Turkish origin for many years” and that is why Turkish politicians “are unwanted [in Austria] and we will therefore no longer allow them”[11]. Some weeks ago, Kurz revealed his government’s plans to shut down seven mosques and expel foreign-funded imams in a crackdown on “political Islam”. In reaction, İbrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the Turkish president, tweeted that the decision was “a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country”[12]. Austria’s government strongly opposes Turkey joining the European Union and in its program there were already straightforward signs of the hardening of rhetoric on Turkey, immigrants, and Islam.

Contrarily to what happened in the five European countries where more Turks casted their ballots, in Switzerland (37% of the 48,000 voters voted for Erdoğan) and in the United Kingdom (just 21% among the 42,000 voters supported Turkey’s reelected president) Erdoğan was not the first choice of the majority of Turkish community.

The Prime Minister Theresa May congratulated Erdoğan on his victory in the Turkish Presidential elections and said she hoped both countries could continue to work together on their “shared priorities, including security cooperation, trade and investment, the situation in Syria and supporting a political settlement in Cyprus”[13].

Even though during the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016, Boris Johnson used a supposedly imminent Turkey’s full membership as a threat to the UK’s national security (due to a possible flood of Turkish immigrants) if his country stayed in the European Union, a few months after, already as Britain’s foreign minister, he went to Ankara and made sure he would help Turkey to join the EU[14].

The day after the elections, the European Commission said it hoped Turkey would remain a “committed partner (…) on major issues of common interest such as migration, security, regional stability and the fight against terrorism”[15], not mentioning Turkey’s status as a candidate country to join the EU. (And on June 26 EU ministers said that Turkey’s EU accession talks have come to a “standstill” and declared their concern about “the continuing and deeply worrying backsliding on the rule of law and on fundamental rights including the freedom of expression”.[16])

Meanwhile, in a (separate official) statement by the EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn it was highlighted that “the restrictive legal framework and powers granted under the ongoing state of emergency restricted the freedoms of assembly and expression, including in the media” and that “Turkey would benefit from urgently addressing key shortcomings regarding the rule of law and fundamental rights”[17]. The text did not name Erdoğan or refer to his election win.

When it comes to the European Parliament (EP), Renate Sommer, a German member of the parliament and shadow Turkey rapporteur for the EP’s Christian Democrats, stated that the Turkish president violates the principles of the rule of law and has absolute power, calling for end to European Union-Turkey membership talks[18]. The Social Democrats, the second largest group in the EP, were also critical. Udo Bullman, the group’s president, applauded the efforts made by the opposition parties and said he believes Erdoğan’s “only objective is to consolidate authoritarianism in Turkey”[19]. By the same token, the EP-Turkey Forum, a cross-party non-partisan platform composed of sixty members of the EP, welcomed the plurality of the new parliament, but regretted “the lack of independent media and silencing of critical journalism” and added that “the new presidential system that now enters into force lacks the necessary checks and balances required to safeguard democracy and the rule of law, which are basic conditions for EU membership”[20].

On July 9, the Bulgarian President Rumen Radev and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (who was the first foreign politician to congratulate the reelected Turkish president on his victory) were the only EU leaders attending Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony at the presidential complex.

One can conclude that there is a general tendency in the countries having some diplomatic issues with Turkey (especially those where Turkish politicians were banned from carrying out election campaigns for expats voters) of seeing their Turkish communities showing a huge support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, even though, given past tendencies, those results are not surprising at all. The voting behavior of Turks in Europe has become again a source of discussion in several European media[21], but as Professor Ayhan Kaya puts it, to Turks living in Europe and coming from a disadvantaged socio-economic background Erdoğan is a “strong personality who can challenge European leaders” and “heal the sources of their problems”, mainly because they were “searching for a personality to save them from sources of humiliation” in their host societies[22]. The signs (before and after the elections) coming from countries like Austria – and even from the European institutions – do not look promising for a possible improvement of relations between them and Turkey.


José Miguel DIAS ROCHA – Erasmus Volunteer for SASAM
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[1] The election results used in this article are taken from the following website:

[2] José Miguel Dias Rocha – “Turks in Germany”. 06/09/2018.

[3] Hürriyet Daily News – “European leaders congratulate Erdoğan on election win”. 06/26/2018.

[4] The Local – “Turkish majority in Germany who voted for Erdogan ‘are like AfD’: Green MP”. 06/25/2018.

[5] Jasper von Altenbockum – “Niederschmetternd”. 06/25/2018. (In this article, I used the translation available on the following website: )

[6] Euronews – “Macron congratulates Turkey’s Erdogan, urges calmer dialogue”. 06/26/2018.

[7] Al Jazeera – “Turkey slams Macron over Erdogan magazine cover”. 05/29/2018.

[8] Hürriyet Daily News – “Turkey slams election campaign ban in Austria, the Netherlands”. 04/22/2018.

[9] Anadolu Agency – “Belgium’s high court paves way for trial of PKK members”. 02/14/2018.

[10] Heinz-Christian Strache – “HC Strache”. 06/29/2018.

[11] Reuters – 04/20/2018. “Austria says will bar Turkish politicians from campaigning on its soil”.

[12] The Guardian – “Turkey condemns Austria’s ‘racist’ move to close seven mosques”. 06/08/2018.

[13] The Government of the United Kingdom – “PM call with President Erdogan: 25 June 2018 “. 06/25/2018.

[14] José Miguel Dias Rocha – “Which EU countries support and which oppose Turkey’s accession?”. 03/19/2018.

[15] Reuters – “EU Commission says hopes Turkey will stay committed partner after vote”. 06/25/2018.

[16] Hürriyet Daily News – “Turkey’s EU accession talks at ‘standstill’: European ministers”. 06/27/2018.

[17] European Comission – “Statement by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn on the elections in Turkey”. 06/25/2018.

[18] Deutsche Welle – “’Seçimi Erdoğan kazanırsa AB üyelik süreci bitmeli’”. 06/20/2018.

[19] S&D Group – “We stand by all progressive, pro-European forces in Turkey and we will continue to lead the call for rule of law and democracy in the country”. 06/25/2018.

[20] Rebecca Harms – “European Parliament Turkey Forum: Public Statement on the 24 June presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey”. 06/25/2018.

[21] Eurotopics – “Why is Erdoğan so popular with the Turkish diaspora?”. 06/26/2018.

[22] Hürriyet Daily News – “Turkish diaspora see Erdoğan as ‘healer’ of frustrations: Professor Ayhan Kaya”. 05/21/2018.

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