European Parliament votes to suspend EU entry talks with Turkey

Resolution says president’s crackdown violates rights protected by constitution

The European Parliament vote in favour of suspending EU membership talks with Turkey is non-binding. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The European Parliament vote in favour of suspending EU membership talks with Turkey is non-binding. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

 

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of suspending European Union membership talks with Turkey on Thursday, reflecting a hardening stance towards Ankara following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on opponents.

The vote is non-binding but comes amid mounting anxiety in Europe over the direction Turkey is taking and Mr Erdogan’s moves to exploit this summer’s failed military coup to purge those he believes are against him.

Only European governments have the right to halt the talks, but Brussels officials warned that if Mr Erdogan continued to pursue his purge it could prompt the suspension of the accession processes.

Kati Piri, the Dutch Socialist MEP who has special responsibility for Turkish matters for the parliament, said the time had come for European leaders to act.

“It sends a strong political signal from the parliament to EU leaders who will be meeting in mid-December that if they take European values seriously – and all this is happening in a candidate country – then it’s time to draw a red line,” she said.

The vote in Strasbourg followed a decision by the parliament’s Socialist group to drop its support for Turkey’s membership bid, joining rival factions in the assembly that have long sought to stop the talks. There were 479 votes in favour of the resolution, 37 MEPs voted against and 107 abstained.

Jailed

Since the failed putsch in July, Mr Erdogan has jailed at least 30,000 people and dismissed or suspended more than 100,000 soldiers, judges, teachers and other civil servants. The president accuses them of being linked to Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric he blames for inspiring the coup attempt. The government has also detained journalists and members of the political opposition, while extending a state of emergency.

Mr Erdogan has reacted to growing criticism by lashing out at the EU and suggesting a referendum on whether Turkey should join the bloc. He said on Wednesday that the parliament vote “has no value in our eyes”.

“We have made clear time and time again that we take care of European values more than many EU countries, but we could not see concrete support from western friends . . . None of the promises were kept,” he said.

The resolution said the crackdown was a violation of basic rights and freedoms that were protected by Turkey’s constitution. It said that since the coup attempt, authorities had arrested 150 journalists, which it said was the highest number in the world, and 10 members of the Kurdish People’s Democratic party.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader in the parliament of the Liberal group, called for immediate action to “freeze” the talks with Turkey, but said EU leaders should commit to review the decision if the situation improves. “By continuing the illusion of accession talks with an increasingly authoritarian regime, the EU is losing credibility, is fooling our citizens and also betraying those Turkish citizens who look to Europe as their future,” he said.

Turkey was an “essential partner” for the EU on energy policy, the fight against terrorism and efforts to stabilise the region around Syria and Iraq, he said. “However, it is wrong to pretend that we can advance on any of these fields by trampling on European values and principles, by closing our eyes as president Erdogan closes down independent media outlets, jails journalists and criminalises members of his parliament,” Mr Verhofstadt added. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016)