EU enlargement chief calls for change of approach to Turkey

By bne IntelliNews April 25, 2017

The European Commission should explore new arrangements with Turkey to ease mutual frustrations and promote cooperation, Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on April 24, according to the Financial Times.

Hahn said that he was seeking a mandate from member states to find a new way forward in the wake of the April 16 referendum in Turkey that has paved the way for an executive presidency with sweeping powers. Various reactions in Europe to allegations about the conduct of the referendum and the reliability of the vote count have led to new friction between Brussels and Ankara.

Turkey applied for EU membership as far back as 1987 and was declared an eligible candidate in 1999. Formal accession negotiations started in 2005, but talks have stalled over the past couple of years as the pace of reforms in Turkey has slowed.

Ankara’s fragile and often troubled relations with the bloc hit a new low during the campaign leading up to the referendum in Turkey because of "Nazi" jibes made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On April 7, for instance, he described Europe as a rotting continent that has become a centre of Nazism.

The Erdogan-led Yes camp claimed a razor-thin victory in the referendum on introducing the powerful executive-style presidency. But the opposition parties, claiming irregularities in the vote, are contesting the result.

The country’s Supreme Election Board  (YSK) last week rejected appeals from opposition parties CHP and HDP for an annulment of the referendum.

EU Commissioner Hahn said that he shared the concerns of the Council of Europe over the constitutional changes, according to Reuters.

The Council of Europe’s constitutional law experts, the Venice Commission, warned in a March report that the proposed constitutional amendments would be a “dangerous step backwards” for Turkish democracy.

The Ankara government maintains that the new system will bring political stability and economic prosperity and will even empower the country’s parliament. Critics dispute that, saying parliament will play little more than a ceremonial role and noting that the post of prime minister is to be abolished.

Hahn called on EU foreign ministers to consider a new format for relations with Turkey when they meet in Malta on April 28. The format could ease mutual frustrations and reinforce cooperation, Reuters reported.

“The current situation is not sustainable,” Hahn said. The commissioner added that “he did not want to prejudge discussions among the member states on whether they should suspend Turkey's accession request”.

“The European Union could look at reinforcing cooperation with Turkey in areas other than EU membership that could benefit both sides. Whatever relationship the EU might have with Turkey, including economic ones, its respect for the rule of law would remain crucial,” Hahn suggested.

Erdogan has repeatedly said Turkey may hold a referendum on whether to continue with the European Union accession talks.

He has also said that Turkey will maintain its commercial ties with the bloc but also will review its political and administrative ties with the EU.

On April 24, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin suggested that relations between Turkey and the European Union could be put back on track if the bloc implements conditions of the migrant deal.

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