EP calls on EU leaders to formally suspend Turkey's accession talks

The European Parliament on Wednesday called on EU leaders to formally suspend Turkey's accession talks in a move of solidarity with Turkey’s democrats, European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri reported on Twitter.

The parliament voted on Wednesday on Piri’s most recent report on Turkey, which also calls for the immediate and unconditional release of a number of prominent opposition figures, and expresses concern over violations of human rights in Turkey.

Ankara responded to the European Parliament's call on Wednesday with ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik saying the decision was "worhless, null and disreputable.'' 

The European Union should formally suspend accession talks with Turkey after it crossed a red line by instituting a new constitution giving President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sweeping executive powers, Piri said in an interview with the Peace and Justice Platform.

The European Parliament has only an advisory role, the final decision on whether to halt accession talks is made by member states’ heads of government meeting in the European Council.

Piri’s report was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on Feb. 20 before being sent to the full parliament. It calls on the European Commission and European Union’s member states to formally suspend negotiations with Turkey, but says democratic dialogue should continue. 

The report asks the commission to use pre-accession funds earmarked for Turkey to support Turkish civil society, but leaves the door open for the upgrading of the 1995 Customs Union between Turkey and the EU, should democratic improvements take place. 

The European Parliament called for a freeze of accession negotiations with Turkey in November 2016, following the Turkish government’s crackdown against opponents in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July that year. 

“That was the first time we took a tougher stance and in 2017, when we saw things deteriorating further, we thought it was necessary for the EP to draw a red line, and our red line was the new constitution,” Piri told Peace and Justice Platform, which monitors and reports on developments in the fields of peace, justice, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, with a special focus on Turkey.

Piri said the parliament had hoped the Turkish government would take note of the Venice Commission, the advisory body of the Council of Europe, which said in 2017 that Turkey’s new constitution could lead to one-man rule and called for a separation of powers. The new constitution was to have come into force after presidential elections that had been due this year, but the polls were moved forward.

“But they pushed forward the election and implemented the new constitution very quickly without making any substantial changes to it. We think that our red line – the one we have been warning Turkey about ever since the coup attempt, and that they did not take seriously – has been crossed, and that is how we have ended up with our position today,” Piri said. 

“This is not a parliament which is hostile to Turkey. When I started as rapporteur, we had a totally different position because, despite the fact that things were already problematic in Turkey, we thought that the EU should use the tools at its disposal, including the opening of chapters, to try to positively influence democratic developments in the country. That did not happen,” Piri said.