Turkey still EU candidate despite row: Mogherini
BRUSSELSTurkey remains an EU membership candidate despite deep concerns over its rights and rule of law record preventing fresh accession talks, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini has said.
At a tense press conference with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and EU Minister Ömer Çelik, Mogherini however warned that “concrete steps” were needed before there could be any progress on Ankara’s long-stalled candidacy.
“Clearly Turkey is and stays a candidate country,” Mogherini said after the July 25 meeting the Turkish Ministers with EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
Mogherini stressed the importance of their “frank and constructive” talks to resolving differences but said it would “be difficult at the moment to open new chapters” in the accession process.
“We have raised what is very important for us, which is not so much to hear during our dialogue, but to see concrete steps in the field of rule of law, human rights, democracy, media freedom.”
Mogherini said “cooperation and dialogue need to be sustained in concrete, positive steps in areas of rule of law and fundamental freedoms.”
Relations with Turkey, and especially between Berlin and Ankara, have hit rock bottom in recent months, stoking calls for Ankara’s EU accession talks to be suspended outright.
Turkey began formal membership talks in 2005 after years of foot-dragging by some EU member states such as France who were wary of admitting such a large Muslim country.
But progress was slow and the negotiations came to a virtual halt last year and in December, EU member states agreed that no new accession chapters would be opened until Ankara reversed course.
Çelik, for his side, said that backbone of the relationship between Turkey and the EU is the accession negotiations.
“The backbone of Turkey-EU relations is the accession negotiations. There cannot be any mention of improving relations such as in energy, trade or terror fight by putting the accession negotiations aside,” he said.
“Turkey is not only a neighboring country but also a candidate country. We should make an effort to provide improvement in accession negotiations,” he said.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, meanwhile, admitted that there were problems in relations with the EU while urging for the continuation of dialogue despite different opinions.
The minister however reiterated that Ankara could not get sufficient support from the bloc in the aftermath of the last year’s failed coup attempt.
“We are fighting against terror organizations… We tried to take steps within the law while struggling with those terror organizations and we are correcting the mistakes if there are one. The state of emergency was also imposed in line with the European Convention of Human Rights,” Çavuşoğlu said, giving France as an example.
“The EU has a great interest in close cooperation with a stable, economically secure and democratic Turkey on issues of common interest, Hahn said.
“In our meeting we discussed how we can better structure our cooperation in economic security and migration issues.”
The Turkish ministers also rejected criticisms from rights group Amnesty International, whose chief met with Mogherini earlier on July 25 to urge the EU to “reset” relations and press Turkey to free detained activists.