European Union foreign ministers on Nov. 14 criticized Turkey’s crackdown on alleged supporters of a failed military coup in July, but Austria’s call to suspend Ankara’s EU membership bid failed to garner enough backing.
As the 28 EU foreign ministers met in Brussels, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was ready to hold a referendum on whether to continue the membership talks and reiterated that he would restore the death penalty – a move sure to scupper the EU talks – if his parliament passed such a law.
“I am not in favour of the continuation of entry negotiations and I believe this Turkey does not have a place in the European Union,” Reuters quoted Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz as saying.
Luxembourg and Belgium were also critical of Turkey, but the bloc’s most powerful members, France and Germany, support continued engagement, arguing that ending the accession negotiations now would do more harm than good.
“Turkey is too important to us – not least because of the close personal times between our two countries – that we could afford to renounce dialogue, particularly in these difficult times,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters before leaving for a one-day visit to Ankara.
Boris Johnson, the foreign minister of Britain, which intends to leave the EU, also cautioned against an “overreaction” to events in Turkey, a large, strategically important, mainly Muslim country on the EU’s southeastern flank.
“We should not push Turkey into a corner, we should not overreact in a way that is against our collective interests,” Johnson said.
Turkey has suspended, dismissed or detained over 100,000 people, including soldiers, judges and teachers, since the coup attempt, which the Turkish government accuses the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and his followers of orchestrating.
More than 1 million people arrived in Europe last year, triggering bitter disputes between EU member states over how to handle them. The deal with Turkey, though much criticized by rights groups, has reduced the influx to a trickle.
Turkey’s situation to be reviewed in December
An EU official said the bloc’s leaders would review the situation in Turkey at a summit scheduled for Dec.15-16.
“It would have to be a majority vote to stop the talks and it’s clear there is no majority at this stage,” the official told Reuters.
Some EU countries said the bloc would lose any residual influence it has over Turkey if it suspended talks, but also voiced concern over a possible restoration of the death penalty, previously scrapped by Ankara as part of its accession drive.
“It is important to keep the membership negotiations ongoing since it is the only way to influence Turkey,” Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini told reporters.
“[But] everybody understands that if it goes on like this, Turkey will not become a member of the EU. The death penalty is the absolute red line for the EU,” Soini added.
“We cannot decide for the government in Ankara whether they will slam the door on the EU and turn away from the West. That is Ankara’s responsibility. If they decide to reintroduce the death penalty, then that would be a clear signal that they want to permanently close the ‘EU file,’” Steinmeier said.
Turkey has often threatened to walk away from the migration deal if the EU does not deliver on its side of the bargain by relaxing visa rules by the end of the year for its citizens visiting Europe.