EU divided over calls to block Turkey’s bid
REUTERS photoEuropean Union member countries are presenting a divided picture on whether to continue full membership talks with Turkey, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to call her European partners to either suspend or end Ankara’s bid to join the 29-member club.
Strongest opposition to Merkel’s call came from Paris, as President Emmanuel Macron stated that ties with Turkey should continue despite the fact that the Turkish government has failed to meet EU democratic and human rights norms of late.
Turkey remains a vital partner of the EU and ties should be maintained even if the country has taken a worrying turn of late, Macron said in an interview published on Sept. 7. “Turkey has indeed strayed away from the European Union in recent months and worryingly overstepped the mark in ways that cannot go ignored. This notably concerns [an update of] the Customs Union,” he was quoted as telling Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper.
“But I want to avoid a split because Turkey is a vital partner in many crises that we all face, notably the immigration challenge and the terrorist threat,” Macron added.
In a statement to German Bundestag earlier this week, Merkel had stressed that she will call on EU leaders to take action against the Turkish accession process at a meeting to be held in October.
Her appeal received positive response from Austrian Foreign Minister Sebestian Kurz, who has long been an advocate of suspending talks with Turkey.
Bert Koenders of the Netherlands said he agreed with Germany’s call to also stop separate talks on upgrading the EU’s customs union with Turkey but suggested Berlin’s stance would only become clear after the parliamentary vote later this month.
“We will have to see what happens,” Koenders told reporters on Sept 7. “After the German elections will be the time for more discussions on this.”
Estonia, Finland, Lithuania against breaking off ties
However, EU term president Estonia’s Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, who is currently hosting an informal EU ministerial meeting in Talinn, stressed that no decision will be made this year on Turkey’s talks.
“I do not expect the European Union to make any decisions in that regard during this year,” Mikser said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Tallinn.
“We have to tread very carefully. While discussing Turkey’s status as a candidate country we should also discuss the future relationship in all its aspects,” he added.
Mikser also referred to the annual “progress report” penned by the European Union Commission, which reviews Turkey’s performance in meeting Copenhagen criteria and which is due to be published later this year.
Finland and Lithuania similarly spoke out against breaking off negotiations. “We should continue the process and engagement. It’s not easy but we have to value contacts,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told reporters in Talinn.
“By stopping or by cutting relations we will not be doing a good thing because we will only be encouraging them to go away. I think the effect would be the opposite of what we’d wish,” Linkevicius said.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini also said he was against ending membership talks with Turkey, saying “it’s always useful to have a dialogue, though we know there are problems with human rights in Turkey.”
Çelik meets with EU ministers
Amid the discussions over Ankara’s future accession talks, Turkish EU Minister Ömer Çelik arrived in Talinn to participate in an EU informal foreign ministers meeting. While in the Estonian capital he was scheduled to meet with prominent EU officials.
French foreign minister due in Ankara
Speaking to reporters in Paris, Turkey’s ambassador to France echoed President Erdogan’s comments that the EU had to make its mind up about membership and dismissed any notion of an alternative “special partnership.”
“Integrating Turkey into the EU is not a Turkish question, but a European question now. Of course we have the impression of being duped,” Ambassador Ismail Hakki Musa said.
“They no longer want a marriage, they want cohabitation. But it’s too late for a ‘privileged partnership’ and Europe must now be honest and sincere,” Musa added.
Turkey’s relationship with France is not quite as bad as it is with Germany, but ties have been strained following the arrest of French journalists in the country. The most recent, Loup Bureau, was seized by Turkish border guards on the frontier with Iraq in early August.
Musa said Macron and Erdoğan had asked their respective interior and justice ministers to find a way to solve the problem.
“We have to find a solution without tainting the fundamentals of the Turkish system,” he said.
France’s foreign minister is due in Ankara on Sept. 14.