Turkey, with its large, dynamic economy, is an important trading partner for the EU and has contributed to EU competitiveness through the Customs Union. Although first expressing interest in joining the European Union in the 1960s, the beginning of any real discussion between Turkey and the EU regarding possible membership did not begin until 2005. Although Turkey’s membership of the EU has always been contentious, the country’s strategic location, membership of NATO and role in the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean have always underlined the importance of continued dialogue. On an optimistic note, it is hoped that the EU’s democratic values, standards and aspirations can become the benchmark for reforms in the country.
So it was with a heavy heart that last month (November) the European Parliament voted to support a resolution recommending the suspension of the ongoing negotiations regarding the admission of Turkey into the European Union. The resolution strongly condemned the "disproportionate repressive measures" taken by the Turkish government since the failed coup attempt in July this year which has involved the arrest of 150 journalists, the detaining of more than 2,300 judges and the suspending or dismissing of almost 130,000 public employees and opposition politicians. Recep Erdoğan, President of Turkey, has also indicated that he would approve the restoration of the death penalty. This in itself would almost certainly force an end to any talk of Turkey joining the EU since a ban on capital punishment is a condition of membership.
The Parliament’s resolution was only ‘advisory’. The Parliament has no formal role in suspending the process of Turkey’s accession which would require ratification by each of the EU member countries, but MEPs voted with a large majority to recommend a temporary freeze on the accession talks. More positively, the resolution also stated that Turkey should nonetheless remain “anchored” to the EU and pledged to review their position when the "disproportionate repressive measures" under the state of emergency in Turkey are lifted.
The Parliament’s resolution did not go down so well at European Commission which along with national governments needs continued Turkish cooperation to uphold an agreement regarding refugees. In March this year Turkey’s involvement in stemming the flow of migrants into Europe was agreed in exchange for billions of euros in refugee assistance and accelerated talks on EU accession. Speaking against the vote, the European Commission’s High Representative Frederica Mogherini warned against the potential loss of friendship and co-operation and stressed that the best way of strengthening Turkey’s democracy would be continued engagement, keeping channels for discussion open.
Unsurprisingly President Erdogan was also unimpressed. He reacted to the vote by threatening an end to the relocation of refugees and some reports of increased activity along Turkey's western coast is of great concern, especially in Greece.
All this adds to the tension and uncertainty generated worldwide in this extremely troubling and unpredictable year. However, with its support for the resolution the Parliament has underlined its commitment to hold firm to long-valued European values even in these difficult times.