Turkey rejects proposals to drop EU accession talks: minister

Turkey's Minister for EU Affairs Omer Celik reacts during an interview with Reuters in Ankara

By Ece Toksabay and Tulay Karadeniz

ANKARA (Reuters) – 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.

On Wednesday, 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.

Relations soured further in the run-up to an April 16 referendum that narrowly handed Erdogan sweeping presidential powers, as tensions between Turkey and the bloc escalated when some European states barred Turkish ministers from delivering speeches to drum up support ahead of the vote.

In an interview on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told Reuters 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.

“I don’t know what will be decided, but I have to stress that the European Parliament is one of the institutions elected by the European citizens. Members of the European Parliament represent the view of their voters,” Hahn said.

Kurtulmus said he believed sincere negotiations between the two parties would help resolve issues, and that Europe should take notice of the helping hand Turkey has extended.

EU leaders have been critical of Erdogan and his behavior toward opponents, both before and after the abortive coup. But they do not want to undermine an agreement struck last year whereby Turkey effectively stopped migrants reaching Greece, easing a crisis that had threatened EU unity.

Celik said Turkey had noted the bloc’s criticism regarding its judiciary and freedom of press and expression, but added the EU was blocking the process by not opening new chapters.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Toby Chopra)