Members on all sides of the European Parliament have called on the Commission to halt accession talks with Turkey thanks to its questionable human rights record, which has deteriorated following an attempted coup earlier this year.
“Our message to Turkey is very clear: accession negotiations should be frozen immediately,” Manfred Weber, the head of the largest political group in the Parliament, the European People’s Party, said.
Since the July 15 failed coup attempt Europe has grown increasingly horrified by the actions of the Turkish government, including the arrest and detention of opposition politicians and journalists, as well as crackdowns on the Kurdish population.
“Thousands of civil servants have been fired. Press freedom is limited. Media outlets have been closed down. Politicians, freely-elected MPs, are in prison. These developments are very worrying,” Weber said.
“We want to make this appeal: Turkey is a friend and a partner. Turkey should change its course – in the interest of its own citizens.”
His concerns were echoed during a debate on the issue in the European Parliament on Tuesday by Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group, Euractiv has reported.
“The European Union loses credibility by looking away from [Turkish President] Erdoğan’s attempt to install an authoritarian regime,” Verhofstadt said.
“Therefore, we should end the accession negotiations with Turkey immediately. Anything else than approving this resolution would be fooling our citizens and betraying the Turkish citizens, especially those who look to Europe as their future,” he added.
Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist group, the second biggest in the European Parliament, also added his voice to calls for a freeze to accession talks, arguing that to do so would send a “political message to Erdoğan” to stop the “mass detention, accusation of political leaders and MPs, repression of judges and journalists”.
He added: “Turkey under Mr Erdoğan is more and more drifting towards an authoritarian regime. Our political message towards Turkey is that human rights, civil rights, democracy are non-negotiable if you want to be part of the EU.”
But Syed Kamall, the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR), of which Erdoğan’s ruling AK Party is an associate member, struck a more conciliatory tone. He suggested that the AK Party still contains many elements seeking to marry together Islam, democracy, and economic liberalisation.
However, he too argued that the heavy-handed actions of Erdoğan must be faced up to in Europe.
“Across this Chamber today, I believe many of us are now united in saying enough is enough,” Kamall said.
Although many in Europe may wish to look the other way in the hope of preserving the EU-Turkey deal on migration, Kamall said: “But we need to be honest with each other. And in wanting to be honest with Turkey, we need to be honest with ourselves.”
Responding on behalf of the Commission, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini urged caution, saying: “I think the best way to strengthen Turkish democracy … is by engaging with Turkey, keeping channels open.
“If the accession process came to an end, I believe we would both find ourselves in a lose-lose scenario.”