EU-Turkey talks fail to ease friction over detentions

High-level talks between EU officials and Turkey's foreign minister did not appear to ease tensions between the bloc and Ankara over a wave of detentions of human rights defenders and journalists, among others

26 July 2017, 8:22am
European Commissioner in charge of European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations Johannes Hahn, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Turkish minister for EU affairs Omer Celik
European Commissioner in charge of European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations Johannes Hahn, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Turkish minister for EU affairs Omer Celik
The European Union on Tuesday delivered its most public criticism yet of Turkey's security crackdown since last year's failed coup, saying there could be no progress on Ankara's bid to join the bloc without an end to human rights abuses.

Speaking after a meeting with Turkey's foreign and EU affairs ministers in Brussels, the European commissioner who oversees the membership talks said he needed to see "a reversal of the trend" towards authoritarianism.

"Human rights, the rule of law, democracy, fundamental freedoms including media freedom are all basic imperative requirements for any progress towards the European Union," Johannes Hahn told a joint news conference with Turkey's top diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu, EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik and the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Turkey has been mired in a diplomatic row with EU powerhouse and fellow NATO ally Germany following the arrests last week of a group of human rights activists, including a German national, on terror-related charges. Earlier, a German-Turkish journalist was arrested for allegedly spying and aiding Kurdish rebels.

Before the talks in Brussels started, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled that the era of Turkey bowing to Western pressure was over.

“The West wants Turkey to bring about their demands no questions asked… I am sorry to say that Turkey no longer exists,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party’s legislators.

Turkey has detained more than 50,000 people, including journalists and opposition lawmakers, since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Critics say the purge initially targeted people suspected of links to the leaders of the failed military takeover, but has expanded to include government opponents.

Mogherini cited what she termed a "worrying pattern of imprisonments of a large number of members of [Turkey's] democratic opposition, journalists and human rights defenders."

Ankara’s minister in charge of EU issues, Omer Celik, said Tuesday’s discussions were “constructive.”

“It’s clear that we have differences, that we have disagreements, but dialogue, discussions and (the) search for settlements … will of course continue,” Celik added.

Celik called accession negotiations “the backbone” of EU-Turkey relations and said the best way to discuss differences would be to open accession chapters.

EU officials stressed that the talks were not being suspended but new topics were not being added to the accession agenda.

Turkey applied to join the EU three decades ago, and it started negotiating in 2005. But of the 16 negotiating chapters on issues as varied as capital movement and food safety, only one — science and research — has been provisionally closed.