European lawmakers vote for suspending EU membership talks with Turkey

An overwhelming majority of the EU parliamentarians have asked their governments to halt the accession talks with Turkey, a move that threatens to further strain ties with Ankara.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkey’s relations with the EU have strained in the last few months as Ankara says its European neighbours are treating it unfairly.

The European Parliament voted on Thursday to temporarily stop the process of including Turkey into the European Union.

Even though the vote is symbolic and nonbinding, it comes ahead of a crucial meeting of Europe’s foreign ministers next month where the decade-old demand of Turkey to become part of the EU will be discussed.

The parliament has basically asked European governments to halt the accession talks with Ankara. The vote was supported by 479 European lawmakers, 37 opposed it while 107 parliamentarians didn’t take any side.

In Ankara, the vote was not welcomed.

"This vote has no value in our eyes," Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had declared just a day earlier at a summit in Istanbul.

"We take care of European values more than many EU countries but our country has not seen concrete support from the West."

The EU parliament's resolution accuses Turkey of going overboard with a crackdown against perpetrators behind July 15 coup attempt that left more than 240 people dead.

It says thousands of people have been fired since then and opposition leaders and journalists have been targeted.

"The Turkish government's repressive measures under the state of emergency are disproportionate and in breach of basic rights and freedoms," the resolution reads.

On its part, Turkey has many more reservations against the EU.

In July this year, hundreds of soldiers backed by tanks and jets rolled into major cities in Turkey in a bid to overthrow Erdogan's Justice and Development (AK) Party government. 

For the Turkish government the attempted coup in July was a major shock. But Ankara says the event of not enough to move the European leaders. Source: Reuters

Thousands of citizens spilled onto the roads to thwart the coup amid bloody clashes.

Ankara says while the Europe attaches immense importance to democratic values, its leaders didn’t bother to visit neighbouring Turkey in the immediate aftermath.

Turkey blames Fatehullah Gulen, a US-based preacher, for instigating his followers to stage the coup.

And it's says the suspension of government employees is part of measures to stop members of the Fetehullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) from misusing the state institutions.

Turkey also says that the EU does not extend support against PKK, a terrorist organisation behind a forty-year long insurgency in Turkey.

The EU has also dragged its feet on the promise of granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens under a migrant deal signed earlier this year, the government says.

The flow of migrants into EU countries has gone down drastically after the deal was enforced.

A proposal being talked about in Turkey to reinstate the death penalty has also strained ties with the EU, which is a staunch opponent of capital punishment.

While some EU leaders have time and again questioned Turkey’s commitment to joining the bloc, Erdogan has also indicated that accession talks don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Last week, he said said Turkey can hold referendum on the issue.

“Let’s wait until the end of the year and then go to the people,” he said in Ankara.

Let’s go to the people since they will make the final call. Even Britain went to the people. Britain said: ‘Let’s exit,’ and they left.

Reaction of various leaders

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted: "EP decision is Populist, Shortsighted, Disappointing and Counterproductive & will do nothing to encourage reforms necessary for Turkey & region."

Turkey's Minister for EU Omer Celik slammed the resolution saying the motion was not something to be taken seriously. 

"They adopted it for political purposes."

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt tweeted: "Obvious that many in European Parliament take a populist shot-term approach to relations with Turkey."

Federica Mogherini, EU's foreign policy chief, had cautioned the European parliament to not disrupt the accession process.

"I always say that foreign policy is about building win-win solutions," she said on Tuesday at plenary session of the European Parliament.

If the accession process came to an end, we would both find ourselves in a lose-lose scenario.