Risk of suspension of EU-Turkey accession talks

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The European Parliament has called for formal suspension of the accession negotiations with Turkey if the constitutional reform package is implemented unchanged. In a report voted on Thursday in Strasbourg, the EU Parliament underlines that the proposed Turkish constitutional amendments do not respect the fundamental principles of separation of powers.

It does not respect the membership criteria. “The violation of the fundamental rights in Turkey should lead to the suspension of the accession talks,” MEPs said during the plenary session on Wednesday .

On Thursday, MEPs adopted the report with 477 in favor, 64 against, and 97 abstentions.

The suspension call reflects the opinion of the majority of European citizens, the MEPs said. Some member-states like Austria are asking to close down the membership perspective.

Last few months, EU-Turkey relations have worsened with Belgium, Netherlands and Germany not allowing Turkish President and his ministers to address the Turkish diaspora during referendum campaign. Germany did not accept President Erdogan’s request to address Turks migrants in Hamburg in the margins of the G20 Summit.

During his referendum campaign, President Erdogan has accused EU leaders of ‘Nazi practices’ and their citizens of being ‘Nazis’.

Prepared by the Dutch MEP Kati Piri (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, S&D), the report points out that “the disproportionate measures undertaken following the declaration of the state emergency have targeted, through detention, dismissals, arrests and property confiscation, not only thousands of people who are alleged members/supporters of the Gülen movement, but also dissenters in general and political parties of the opposition in particular are still awaiting compelling evidence as regards the perpetrators of the coup attempt”.

Despite it is not being legally binding, the resolution voted on Thursday reflects the European public concerns regarding the political changes in Turkey.

The European Commission could continue accession negotiations but may in this case run the risk of finding itself in a confrontation with the large majority of European Parliament political groups. “We can’t and we will not ignore the worrying developments in Turkey,” European Commissioner responsible for Enlargement and Neighborhood policies, Johannes Hahn, said.

“Only tangible steps from Ankara reversing the worrying trend on fundamentals of EU-Turkey relations can lead to an improvement in the mid and long term” Hahn said in his address to the MEPs.

European politicians do recognize the need for joint efforts with Turkey to face the common threats and challenges. “From security in the wider region, to the fight against terrorism, the handling of migration and refugees, it is in the European Union interest to have a stable, democratic, prosperous partner who acts under the rule of law,” the EU Commissioner stressed. He confirmed that the EU will continue providing financial assistance to Turkey according to the EU-Turkey Agreement on migration signed in March 2016. The deal provides a European financial assistance of €3 billion over two years.

Since the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, “we see serious breaches of fundamental rights. Since the state of emergency, more than 150, 000 have been fired by decree, and more than 50,000 imprisoned during the last 11 months,” the rapporteur said in her presentation.

“If the Turkish Government implements the constitutional package without taking into consideration the voice of 23 million people who voted against the package then there will be a formal suspension of the accession talks,” she assessed.

The European Parliament strongly condemns “the imprisonment of 11 MPS belonging to the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and of 85 Kurdish municipal mayors”.

The report underlines that since July 2016 more than 100,000 legal complaints have been filed with the Turkish Constitutional Court, which declared itself not competent on matters failing under the emergency decree.

The report condemns strongly the serious backsliding and violations of freedom of expression and the serious infringements of media freedom, including the disproportionate banning of media sites and social media.

The European Parliament express its concern regarding the closure of 170 media outlets - including almost all Kurdish-language outlets - and the jailing of more than 150 journalists.

The report points MEPs’ serious concerns at the continuously deteriorating situation in south-east Turkey, especially in the areas where curfews were imposed, excessive force was used and collective punishment applied to all inhabitants, and where some 2,000 were reportedly killed in the context of security operations and an estimated half a million people became displaced in the period of July 2015 to December 2016.

It underlines that judges and prosecutors continue to come under strong political pressure and that as many as 4,000, which is close to one-fourth of all judges and prosecutors, have been dismissed or arrested and in some cases their properties have been confiscated.

The rapporteur Kati Piri stressed the need to take into consideration the interest of at least 23 million Turkish people who voted against the constitutional package. She suggests “the Commission could use the pre-accession funds, around 700,000 million per year to support Turkish civil society and refugees in Turkey directly, and to invest more in people-to-people exchange programs, such as Erasmus +, for students, academics and journalists”.

The suspension of membership talks option means Europe could turn its back to large segments of Turkish society who share with Europe its funding values and principles. “Closing the doors on Turkey means closing the doors on Turkish democrats and civil society” Demir Murat Seyrek, a Senior Policy advisor at the European Foundation for Democracy (a Brussels-based policy institute) told Al Arabiya English. “The opposition is there and is very active. They know they have and they can change things” he added referring to the thousands of protesters who are actually marching since 15 June from Ankara to Istanbul. The march is leaded by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of Turkish main secular opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Demir Murat Seyrek sees the polarization of Turkish society as a very worrying problem. “This is the worst thing and it affects social relations and business. There is a tangible tension. People speaks about politics all the time” he said.

During Recip Tayep Erdogan’s presidency Turkish society progressively polarized between secular and conservative camps.

Turkey could also start its journey to the East and may attempt to revive a new Ottoman ambition. Turkey and Russia ‘rapprochement’ around the Syrian crisis was a serious interrogation for a possible alliance change.

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