EU foreign ministers reject Austria’s call for freezing membership talks with Turkey

By bne IntelliNews December 14, 2016

EU foreign ministers failed to achieve consensus on Turkey’s accession process when they met on December 13 to discuss the bloc’s enlargement policy. Still, the member states rejected Austria’s call to freeze Ankara’s accession negotiations.

“Regret that no agreement today on Turkey,” EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn wrote on Twitter.

“Under the currently prevailing circumstances, no new chapters are considered for opening," said the statement by the European Union presidency, which is currently held by Slovakia, AFP reported.

In a final statement, agreed without Austria, the EU ministers called on Turkey to urgently address the many serious shortcomings, according to AP.

In the progress report released in November, the European Commission blasted Ankara for serious backsliding on freedoms, warning that the country was drifting away from Europe. Last month, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on a resolution calling for freezing of Turkey’s accession talks. Ankara dismissed the European Parliament vote as “void and null”.

Turkey is also upset that Brussels is not living up to its promises. As part of the migrant agreement, the EU pledged financial aid, a fast-track accession talks and an easing of visa rules for Turkish nationals. None of these have happened. Instead, the bloc has become increasingly critical of Turkey because of its post-coup crackdown.

Ankara argues that measures taken in the wake of the July 15 botched putsch are necessary and that its Western allies fail to understand the threats Turkey is facing.

Turkey began EU membership talks in 2005. In the accession negotiations, 16 chapters have been opened but only one chapter is temporarily closed.

In fact, the EU is not expected to slam the door on Turkey as it needs Ankara to keep millions of refugees away from Europe and to contain the threats from Islamic State. Turkey hosts more than 3mn refugees and it is on the frontline in the fight against the extremist jihadi group in Iraq and Syria.

“Turkey, the world's largest refugee hosting country, is to set up a tent city to accommodate up to 80,000 Syrian refugees fleeing Aleppo,” Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted on December 13, reminding the crucial role Ankara plays in the conflicts in the region.

EU heavyweight Germany has been seeking to avoid any move that could alienate Turkey at such crucial times. Germany’s Angela Merkel, who faces elections next year, wants to keep the key migrant deal the EU signed with Ankara earlier this year alive.

“The European Commission had been planning to propose deepening Europe’s customs union with Turkey, a big political goal for Ankara as its economy weakens in the aftermath of the coup attempt,” the Financial Times reported on December 13. The commission will decide next week whether to go ahead, according to the newspaper. Given the deterioration in relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, diplomats have questioned whether this initiative could progress, FT said.

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