BRUSSELS (AP) – Belgium’s prime minister said Friday the time has come for the European Union to make a final decision about Turkey’s “dead end” bid for membership, saying that after months of provocations from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “masochism must have its limits.”
“Here and now, I have impression that the membership process is not the right framework to have a successful dialogue with Turkey,” Michel said in an interview with the Associated Press.
Austria is also seeking to end Turkey’s membership bid, and a growing group of countries say they’ve realized acting as if Turkey is still a constructive partner would amount to a charade.
“Let’s be frank – for several months now there is an acceleration in the process of the Turkish government turning its back on European values,” Michel said.
Erdogan recently won a referendum that expands his powers, and he has had equally harsh words for the EU. He has also said he may hold a referendum on whether the country should continue its membership efforts.
The suppression of an attempted coup last summer and the resulting purge of tens of thousands of people from government jobs have been widely criticized in Europe as a move toward authoritarianism. Erdogan’s campaign for the referendum giving him more power further undermined whatever goodwill was left.
To top it off, Erdogan compared Belgian neighbours Germany and the Netherlands to Nazis over restrictions they imposed on government ministers trying to drum up support for the April referendum among Turks living abroad.
“The past months made a lot clear about the developments in Turkey and the way in which the referendum campaign was held. It was clearly an anti-European campaign. So, at a certain point for the European Union, masochism must have its limits,” Michel said. “This is not simply becoming member of an economic or political club, it is also becoming member of a set of fundamental values.”
Turkey applied to join the EU three decades ago, and negotiations started in 2005. Over the past dozen years, the talks have ground to a halt over increasingly bitter recriminations about who is responsible for the lack of progress.
Turkey and Europe are already politically intertwined because of a shared membership in NATO and strong commercial links. The EU also clinched a deal in which Turkey gets billions of euros in aid in return for keeping refugees – mostly Syrian – who would otherwise would be pouring into Europe in huge numbers.
“Turkey will always be our neighbor so there is a great strategic interest to have a dialogue,” Michel said.
Only last week, EU foreign ministers assessed the deteriorating relations, yet agreed to keep the door ajar for Turkey if Ankara provides clearer signals on whether it intends to meet the entrance criteria in such areas as human rights and rule of law.
Early this week, Erdogan says his country will have “nothing to discuss” with the EU unless the membership drive gets going again.
Michel said that “we are approaching the moment of truth with Turkey. I think more and more that the EU membership process is ever more at a dead end.”