Author : Hurriyet Dailynews

Posted : December 14, 2016

The European Union foreign ministers said on Dec. 13 the bloc would not push ahead with membership talks with Turkey but rejected calls by Austria and European lawmakers to freeze the process because of Ankara’s security crackdown.

“Under the currently prevailing circumstances, no new chapters are considered for opening,” said the statement by the European Union presidency, which is currently held by Slovakia.

A “chapter” is a specific area of negotiations in the membership talks, on issues ranging from human rights to economic cooperation.

Austria however refused to sign the statement because it wants a complete freeze of Turkey’s long-stalled process for joining the 28-member bloc, including negotiations that are currently underway.

Several foreign ministers arriving for a meeting in Brussels argued against calls from Austria for a tough stand against Ankara. The European Parliament has also passed a resolution calling for a freeze in talks.

The bloc has criticized Ankara’s sweeping dismissals and arrests over a failed coup attempt in July but is wary of upsetting Turkey too much as it needs its cooperation on curbing immigration to the bloc and dealing with the conflict in Syria.

Turkey has jailed some 36,000 people pending trial and sacked or suspended more than 100,000 over their alleged support of the coup plotters, which the Turkish government accuses the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and his supporters of orchestrating. The EU worries that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government is using the coup as a pretext to go after their critics.

“It is needed to go further on some collaboration with Turkey, it is true for fight against terrorism, capacity to exchange information on fighters, also to manage together the migration issue,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said.

“About the accession process, it is true that it’s impossible now to go further with such a very difficult situation in Turkey … we will say certainly that it is impossible to open new chapters for the accession process.”

France’s Europe Minister Harlem Desir agreed, adding he wanted “a demanding, clear and firm dialogue on the principles and values which are those of Europe.”

This decision comes despite a promise by the EU in March to prepare to open new chapters at an “accelerated pace” as part of a landmark deal with Ankara to tackle the migration crisis.

The EU opened one new chapter in June, but this brings the tally to only 16 out of the 35 required for Turkey to join the bloc. Only one chapter has been completed.

Arguing for a tougher line, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said: “Accession talks with Turkey have to be put on hold … Turkey has drifted away from Europe more and more and, over the past months, this development has increased in terms of drama and speed.”

The Netherlands is also with the hawkish camp. But EU leaders are not likely to agree a formal halt of the accession process.

Diplomats said the EU is instead mulling shifting pre-accession funds that it is giving to Ankara, directing them instead more firmly at Turkish civil society.

It has also said the accession process would come to an automatic end should Ankara reinstate the death penalty.

After Austria refused to sign up to the Dec. 13 statement, the Slovak presidency said it “notes the absence of a consensus” but that there was an “overwhelming majority” on the course of action.

“The text developed in the right direction, but it was not yet enough from my point of view,” Kurz told reporters. But he said the statement is “definitely positive.”

However, German Minister of State Michael Roth warned that “we shouldn’t slam the doors in this difficult phase” despite “a regression” in the rule of law and media freedom in Turkey.

But at the same time, he said: “There has to be a clear signal of the European Union to… the citizens in Turkey who share our European values.”

Turkey formally applied to become an EU member in 1987 and accession talks only began in 2005, even though Ankara’s aspirations to become part of the bloc date back to the 1960s.

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