EU Parliament backs freeze of Turkey membership talks

Move threatens a key refugee deal between Brussels and Ankara

Gulf News

Strasbourg, France: The European Parliament on Thursday voted in favour of a freeze of membership talks with Turkey over its post-coup crackdown, further escalating tensions with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has already dismissed the vote as having “no value” as it is non-binding, and as most European Union member states so far want to keep the Turkey talks on track.

But the motion, approved by a big majority, is a fresh blow to ties that have unravelled in the wake of the failed July 15 failed putsch and threatened a key migration deal between Brussels and Ankara.

MEPs voting in Strasbourg, France, said the parliament “strongly condemns the disproportionate repressive measures taken in Turkey since the failed military coup attempt”.

They said they remained “committed to keeping Turkey anchored to the EU” but said parliament “calls on the Commission and the Member States, however, to initiate a temporary freeze of the ongoing accession negotiations with Turkey.”

The motion was approved by 479 votes to 37, with 107 abstentions.

A furious Erdogan said on Wednesday that “I want to say in advance from here and address the whole world watching on their TV screens — this vote has no value at all, no matter what result emerges.”

“It is not possible for me to even digest the message that they want to deliver.”

Europe’s message has however been increasingly clear about its concerns over rights and democracy in Turkey, especially over the coup crackdown that has seen almost 37,000 arrested.

Turkey formally applied to become an EU member in 1987 and accession talks only began in 2005, even though Ankara’s aspirations to become part of the bloc dates back to the 1960s.

While the vote will have no concrete effect as EU member states with the exception of Austria so far want to keep the accession process going, it is yet another blow to relations that seemed to be improving just months ago.

Turkey and the EU had agreed to speed up the long-stalled membership talks after both sides reached a deal in March to curb refugee flows towards the European Union.

Brussels agreed to give visa free travel for Turks once it carried out key reforms and give more aid to Turkey, in exchange for Ankara cutting the number of refugees to the Greek islands.

But the process has stalled in any case after the failed bid by a rogue group in the army to bring down the Turkish government — making the call for a freeze largely symbolic.

The mass arrests and job dismissals as well as measures against Turkish media in the ensuing crackdown triggered a sharp reaction from EU politicians and rights watchdogs.

Erdogan on Wednesday lashed out at what he called a “lack of concrete support” from the EU and urged Islamic countries to join their forces to end the West’s “double standards”.

He said the vote was an indicator of the fact that the EU took the side of “terror organisations” — meaning Kurdish groups that the Turkish state is fighting against.

The Turkish strongman also noted that Donald Trump was also being accused of being a dictator after his election as US president, denouncing protests against his impending assumption of power.

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