Turkey rejects proposals to drop EU accession talks

Turkey rejects any proposals to drop European Union accession talks in favor of cooperation in other areas, its EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said on Thursday ahead of a European Parliament vote on suspending Turkey’s membership bid.

Speaking during a visit to Ankara by EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, Celik said it was wrong for EU lawmakers to call for the suspension of Turkey’s membership talks, adding such approaches would benefit neither side.

“We reject with the back of our hand any proposals that there should be strong cooperation between Turkey and the EU in other areas instead of accession talks,” Celik told reporters.

EU lawmakers called for a suspension of Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union, saying President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on opponents meant Ankara did not meet the bloc’s democratic criteria.

A vote on the proposal is expected to pass comfortably on Thursday, but the parliament has limited influence on the issue. The European Commission and EU governments have ignored calls for a formal suspension of a process already in limbo.

Turkey’s ties with its European allies have deteriorated since last July’s abortive putsch, with Turkey accusing some European states of not showing enough support.

“The European Parliament has failed in its solidarity with Turkey following the coup attempt. We had expected strong support, but the call to end membership talks instead is wrong,” Celik said.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that Turkey was not responsible for the escalation of tensions between the two sides.

“Europe displaying inappropriate behavior toward Turkey is not a situation we can accept. Being against our President Erdogan is also not a rational stance from Europe. Europe must decide: … do they really want to enlarge?” Kurtulmus said.

EU commissioner Hahn said he hoped the interaction between the two sides would lead to a higher level of political dialogue.

Balance policy

Developments in the Middle East and — on a broader plane — the East-West rivalry spearheaded by the United States and Russia are ensuring that the drifting apart of Ankara and the EU is contained, for now.

Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was NATO secretary-general from 2009-2014, summed up the picture in remarks.

“[Turkey] is a bridge between the West and the Middle East and Central Asia. It has the second-largest army within NATO. So I would argue from a security point of view that we need Turkey as much as Turkey needs us,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen was referring to Turkey’s membership in NATO, but the alliance and the EU are so entwined on multiple levels that his remarks apply to the EU’s ties with Turkey, too.

Retired Ambassador Temel Iskit, whose former posts include Brussels, says that because of considerations relating to EU security and economic interests, it is very unlikely that the EU will sever ties with Turkey.

“Turkey, with its large population, is sitting on the most strategic piece of real estate in the world. This ensures that the EU cannot put its ties with Turkey at risk,” Iskit said.

Some in Europe are arguing that the EU has come out on top when it comes to Turkey because it forced Ankara into cooperation on the migrant deal without bowing to its demands.

“Turkey is currently seeking to reset its relations with the EU—and it is doing so without winning visa-free travel to the bloc for its citizens or [without] signs of any progress in its EU accession negotiations,” Natalie Nougayrede, a foreign affairs commentator for The Guardian, wrote June 24.

“It looks like the EU has played its cards rather well with this complex and antagonizing partner,” she added.

According to analyst Semih Idiz, “The fact that Turkey sits on the most strategic real estate in the world ensures that the EU can’t put its ties with Ankara at risk, regardless of objections to Turkey’s politics.”