On the night of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s win in the Netherlands General Election, a reporter asked an interesting question:
“Are you the politician that has saved the European Union?”
Rutte was not drawn on the implication that the EU needed saving, preferring to answer in purely national terms. However, there is no doubt that the Union is under attack and that the Netherlands result brought some relief to its hard-pressed supporters.
Concerns about its future have focused on the rise of hard-right anti-EU parties internally — Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands; the Front National Party of Marine Le Pen in France and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany — however, the external threat is just as potent, and together they provide a huge challenge for Brussels.
It is no secret that Russian President Vladimir Putin is no friend of the EU, believing its dissolution will be his chance to restablish influence over the Central European States that once belonged to the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact — and perhaps beyond.
Of particular concern is Russia’s growing relationship with Turkey who in its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin sees a fellow authoritarian he can deal with.
Was it coincidence that soon after a series of meetings and telephone calls between the two, Erdogan set up a confrontation with various European countries, including the Netherlands, by calling for rallies of Turkish expatriates in support of next month’s constitutional referendum that will give him near dictatorial powers?
There is nothing wrong with Turks living in Europe taking an interest in the affairs of their homeland, but why was it necessary to demand that Turkish Ministers and officials fly in to stir up support for a vote Erdogan is certain to win anyway?
When Rutte quite rightly refused, citing law and order issues, he was subject to a blistering attack from Ankara, with slurs of fascists and Nazis being quite liberally thrown around, the obvious intention being to provoke an anti-Islam and immigration backlash that might carry the EU-hater Wilders to power.
Thankfully, Rutte’s robust response foiled that plan as Dutch voters rallied round their Prime Minister; Turkish Foreign Minister, Meviut Cavusoglu let his disappointment get the better of him when he made the outrageous assertion the election result would provoke a "holy war” in Europe.
However, elections in France and Germany this year may still give Puten and Erdogan a second chance. As football fan Mark Rutte pointed out, his election was just the quarter final in the trial of strength.
“We still have the semi final (France) and the final (Germany) to play,” he said.