EU minister slams Austrian chancellor over membership bid remarks

EU minister slams Austrian chancellor over membership bid remarks

EU minister slams Austrian chancellor over membership bid remarks


Ankara has slammed the Austrian chancellor’s remarks suggesting the European Union end talks with Turkey over the latter’s bid to become a full member of the bloc. 

Turkey’s EU minister and the chief negotiator with the bloc, Ömer Çelik, said Aug. 4 that comments by Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, suggesting talks with Turkey on joining the European Union be ended, came disturbingly close to the rhetoric of the far right.  

“It’s disturbing that his statements are similar to those of the far right... Criticism is surely a democratic right but there has to be a difference between criticizing Turkey and being against Turkey,” Çelik was quoted as telling reporters in Ankara by Reuters. 

“We have to face reality: the membership negotiations are currently no more than fiction,” Kern told Austrian media late Aug. 3, according to AFP. “We are all well advised to now say we’re pressing the reset button,” he said.

“We know that Turkey’s democratic standards are far from sufficient to justify its accession,” he added. 

Turkey’s longstanding, and recently revived, bid to join the EU has already been hit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s suggestion that he may reintroduce the death penalty in the wake of the failed coup attempt on July 15 – a move which would instantly disqualify it from joining the bloc.

Kern told public broadcaster ORF that he wants to initiate a debate at a European Council summit on Sept. 16.

Relations have deteriorated between Turkey and Europe since a major crackdown by the Turkish state following the failed coup, with tensions particularly high with Germany and Austria, both of which have large ethnic Turkish communities.

On July 31, around 40,000 Erdoğan supporters rallied in the German city of Cologne but a court rejected an application to allow live speeches to be beamed in from Turkey, including one by the president, angering Ankara.

In Austria, the mayor of the small city of Wiener Neustadt said on July 22 that he wanted the sizeable Turkish community there to remove Turkish flags from balconies, but there is no ban in place there or anywhere else in the country.

Kern said Turkey’s economy also remained far below the EU average and well short of membership requirements.

Making Ankara a part of the EU’s single market would spark “massive economic upheaval” in a bloc already struggling to cope with its enlargement toward eastern and central Europe, he warned.

Instead, the EU should seek “new alternatives” to help bring Turkey’s economy closer to European standards.
“[The country] remains an important partner in security and integration matters,” Kern said, highlighting Turkey’s key role in the ongoing migrant crisis.

In March, Turkey and the EU signed a controversial deal in which Ankara agreed to take back Syrian migrants landing on Greek islands in exchange for political and financial incentives.

In addition to visa-free travel, the pact includes billions of euros in aid and accelerated EU membership talks.

Kern said he did not believe that a halt to accession talks would torpedo the refugee pact.

“Economically, we have the upper hand. Turkey depends on us,” he added.

Earlier this week, Kern said he would not bow to “intimidation” from Turkey after receiving online death threats from “radical” elements of Austria’s sizeable Turkish community.