The European Parliament has voted for a temporary freeze on EU accession talks with Turkey by a strong majority. The resolution is not legally binding and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had already dismissed the parliamentary vote before it was held. “This vote has no value in our eyes,” Erdogan said on November 23.
The rift between the union and the Erdogan regime has been escalating recently and the immigrant deal reached last year has now all but collapsed. Erdogan regularly threatens the union with sending Syrian immigrants currently hosted in Turkey to Europe.
Erdogan reiterated on November 20 that Turkey should not see its EU accession bid as the only option it has. Rather it should discuss alternatives such as the Russian-led Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. The SCO is a political, economic and military alliance that includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Pakistan, India and Iran have officially applied for SCO membership.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to Erdogan on November 23, one day before the vote, saying that she is also against the suspension of the accession talks. It is necessary to maintain dialogue with Turkey, according to Merkel.
All kind of criticism from Europe without any enforcement has always been welcomed by Erdogan to consolidate his voter base. Erdogan’s top aide Bulent Gedikli even accused the European Parliament of manipulating financial markets through announcing its advisory decision just minutes after the Turkish central bank hiked its policy rates in a bid to support the local currency, which has been hitting successive all-time lows over the past month.
479 MEPs voted in favour of the advisory resolution against Turkey, while 37 MEPs voted for the continuation of the accession talks. 107 MEPs were absent.
MEPs said Turkey should nonetheless remain “anchored” to the EU. “They also pledged to review their position when the "disproportionate repressive measures" under the state of emergency in Turkey since the failed coup attempt in July 2016 are lifted,” according to the parliament’s press release. But MEPs warned Turkey that reintroduction of the death penalty is the red line that should not be crossed.
MEPs still define Turkey as an important partner of the EU. However, they also think the will in partnerships to cooperate has to be two-sided. Turkey is not showing the required political will as the government’s actions are further diverting Turkey from its European path, according to the European Parliament’s press release.
A temporary halt of the negotiations would entail that no new negotiating chapters be opened and no new initiatives be taken in relation to Turkey’s EU Negotiation Framework, which stipulates that in the case of a serious and persistent breach in Turkey of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the union is founded, the Commission will, on its own initiative or on the request of one third of the member states, recommend the suspension of negotiations and propose the conditions for eventual resumption.
Meanwhile, purges and arrests in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt as well as the crackdown on pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP have been rolling on. Thousands of people have been jailed or under investigation while many other were fired from the public sector. Leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP, the third largest party in the parliament, are in jail together with many municipality heads, MPs and other party members. There is almost no mainstream opposition media left after the executives and writers of the leading opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet were arrested.
A renewed push towards the introduction of an executive presidency system and discussions for the return of the death penalty are back on the Turkish government’s agenda, which has been recently been backed by the nationalist opposition MHP.
Moreover, geopolitical risks related to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq continue to impose significant security risks to the country’s political future.