Author: Quentin Ariès
Today’s midday press briefing was supposed to focus on Margrethe Vestager and her competition portfolio, but the fight between Turkey and the Netherlands got in the way.
Dutch authorities on Saturday barred Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu from landing in Rotterdam after a political rally at which he was slated to appear was canceled. Çavuşoğlu was campaigning ahead of an April referendum that could expand the powers of the president.
After Saturday’s incident Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “Nazism is still widespread in the West.”
Speaking at an awards ceremony in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdoğan said: “I thought Nazism was dead but I was wrong … the West has shown its true face.”
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas took a cautious line when questioned on the diplomatic row Monday. He repeated his boss Jean-Claude Juncker’s statement to Luxembourgish media last week that nazi references are “a shame” and said the Commission president and foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini were trying to calm the situation.
“The EU calls on Turkey to refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation. Matters of concern can only be resolved through open and direct communication channels. We will continue to provide our good offices in the interest of EU-Turkey relations,” said a joint statement from Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the commissioner for neighborhood policy and enlargement.
Schinas repeatedly avoided picking sides on whether EU countries should host political rallies by Turkish officials ahead of the referendum campaign. While campaign meetings have been called off in Germany and the Netherlands, a rally was held in the French city of Metz on Saturday.
“Holding rallies and political meetings depends on national and regional contexts,” Schinas said, adding that the Commission has no say over public order and public security.
Schinas declined to comment on whether the Dutch authorities broke freedom of expression and freedom of movement rules by barring Çavuşoğlu and on whether the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees was in jeopardy.
Back to Vestager
The European commissioner for competition eventually made it to the podium to announce a settlement with Russian energy company Gazprom.
After saying last week the Commission was “done with substantial issues” in its investigation into the company’s dominant position over gas supplies to Central and Eastern Europe, Gazprom is ready to comply with EU rules, Vestager said.
“We believe that Gazprom’s commitments will enable the free flow of gas in Central and Eastern Europe at competitive prices,” said Vestager, adding that “this is not the end of the story” as Gazprom still faces a hefty fine if it does not curb gas prices to some countries.
Schinas did not comment on Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to push for a second referendum on Scottish independence, which was announced as he was at the podium.
When pressed, he said the line from ex-Commission president José Manuel Barroso from the first referendum still applies, meaning that an independent Scotland would have to start EU membership talks from scratch.
The Commission’s chief spokesman was also elusive on the timeline for Brexit negotiations, with Theresa May likely to trigger Article 50 as soon as Tuesday.
The Commission “is ready to negotiate” and will deliver negotiation guidelines “immediately” when EU leaders meet to kick off the Brexit talks — probably on April 6.