European Union foreign ministers are assessing EU’s relations with membership candidate Turkey as ties between the two have sunk to their lowest level in years.
The meeting comes in the wake of the divisive referendum in Turkey that gives more powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his stinging criticism of several EU nations, some of which he compared to Nazis.
Even the NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, who flew to Malta to discuss with the EU foreign ministers, has expressed alarm at the actions of “key ally” Turkey, after Ankara announced a new series of arrests and suspensions in connection with last year’s abortive coup.
“Turkey has the right to protect itself and also to prosecute those who were behind the failed coup attempt. But that has to take place based on the rule of law, full respect to the rule of law,” Stoltenberg told the media ahead of an EU defense ministers’ meeting in Valetta, Malta.
However, Germany rejected today demands to halt Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, even as some EU states said Ankara’s membership dream was dead after Turks voted to grant President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.
Increasingly worried with what the European Union sees as Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism, EU lawmakers called this week for a formal suspension of Turkey’s long-stalled EU bid, saying it does not meet democratic standards.
While some ministers are calling for sustained relations with a difficult partner who is also a pillar of the NATO alliance, others are calling for change.
Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak questioned Turkey’s credentials to join the EU, saying that EU “values must be underpinned by concrete steps and you must not be saying one thing and marching in a different direction.”
But German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who will discuss the issue on Friday with his EU counterparts and with Turkey’s top diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu, said such a step would be counterproductive.
Austria has led calls to abort the process, which was launched in 2005 and has been frozen by political obstacles over Cyprus and resistance in some EU states to let in the majority Muslim country, even before this month’s referendum.
“It would be absolutely wrong to stick to the illusion of accession (to the EU),” Austria’s Sebastian Kurz said.
Erdogan narrowly won a referendum to implement the biggest overhaul of Turkey’s political system since the modern state was established nearly a century ago.
Supporters say it will give Turkey stability but EU officials and Turkey’s opposition say it is the beginning of one-man rule.
Erdogan’s security crackdown following a failed coup last July, his ‘Nazi’ jibes against EU states Germany and the Netherlands, and what the bloc sees as persecution of dissenting voices, have provoked a crisis in relations.
The Netherlands and Luxembourg, Germany’s traditional allies on foreign and economic policy, also called for a new approach to Turkey, a NATO member of 80 million people that sits strategically between Europe and the Middle East.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said the European Commission, which handles membership talks with Turkey, should clarify where Ankara stands in meeting EU entry criteria to give EU governments a solid ground for any further decisions.