Jean-Claude Juncker urges calm on Turkey’s EU ambitions

EC president’s warning comes after Austrian chancellor Christian Kern described as “diplomatic fiction” Turkey’s EU accession hopes

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned it would be a "serious political failure" to raise doubts now about future EU relations with Turkey.

His intervention came after Austrian chancellor Christian Kern described as "diplomatic fiction" Turkey's EU accession hopes and aired doubts about a March deal whereby, in exchange for taking refugees back from Europe, Turkey would receive multibillion funding, expedited accession talks and visa-free travel for its citizens into the EU.

Ankara described Mr Kern’s remarks as “disturbing” and the growing spat has undermined further expectations of securing a final visa deal by October.

On Thursday evening, Mr Juncker appealed for calm on all sides, saying Turkey “in the state it is currently in, cannot become a member of the European Union”.

“But I don’t think it would be helpful if we would unilaterally tell Turkey that the negotiations are over,” said Mr Juncker to Germany’s ARD public television. He pointed out it would require a unanimous vote of all members to end accession talks with Ankara, for which he didn’t see willingness at this point.

Austria’s new Social Democrat (SPÖ) chancellor was the most senior European figure yet to raise doubts in public about EU-Turkey relations since last month’s failed coup.

Democratic standards

“We know that Turkey’s democratic standards are far from sufficient to justify accession,” said Mr Kern, promising to raise at September’s summit the future of accession talks. Turkey’s European affairs minister

Omer Celik

said criticism of Turkey was legitimate but not an “anti-Turkish tone”.

“Suggesting to halt Turkey’s negotiations is not defending EU values,” said Mr Celik. “It only pleases the far-right in Europe and the coup plotter terrorists.”

In reply, Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz posted on Twitter: "Turkey has to do its homework and moderate its own language and actions." Austrian political observers see a link between Viennese concerns over Turkey and the presidential election re-run in October, where one of two candidates is from the far-right Freedom Party.

Mr Juncker tried to calm tensions on both sides but, in light of mass detentions in Turkey, he warned Europe would “not budge” on human rights. It was wrong to abuse anti-terrorism laws, he said, “to stick journalists, academics and others in jail, that’s not on”.

European leaders have raised concerns over the Erdogan administration’s detention of over 25,000 opposition figures, civil servants and judges it has linked to the failed coup.

On Thursday, an Istanbul court issued an arrest warrant for the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, stating he had ordered the coup. Ankara says it has ordered Gulen’s extradition from the US, where he lives, though US authorities say they have received no such request.

The EU-Turkey deal has divided opinion in Berlin as well, with the foreign ministry dismissing doubts about the March deal. Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently on holiday, has yet to intervene. A new poll showed, in wake of recent terror attacks in Germany, a drastic 12-point drop in support for the leader.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

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