The European Union voiced grave concern about Turkey’s crackdown on opponents since a failed July coup in a highly critical report on Wednesday that made clear that Ankara’s prospects of joining the bloc have become ever more distant.
Turkey had rolled back the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression and other fundamental democratic standards since the coup attempt, the EU said in its most hard-hitting annual report on the country’s long-running membership bid.
“The coup attempt of July 15 was an attack on democracy per se. Given the seriousness of the situation, a swift reaction to the threat was legitimate,” the EU’s top enlargement official, Johannes Hahn, said.
“However, the large scale and collective nature of measures taken over the last months raise very serious concerns. Turkey as a candidate country must fulfil the highest standards in the field of the rule of law and fundamental rights. In this year’s report, we, therefore, stress Turkey’s backsliding in the area of rule of law and fundamental rights.”
The report risks further damaging the EU’s relations with a country it is relying on to restrict the flow of migrants and refugees from Syria and elsewhere.
The post-coup crackdown, which has seen more than 110,000 soldiers, judges, teachers, journalists and others detained, dismissed or suspended, has shocked the EU as it tries to work with Ankara on migration and countering terrorism.
The EU has stepped up its criticism of Ankara since its arrest of prominent Kurdish lawmakers last week, and it said it would be Erdogan’s fault if Turkey failed to meet criteria for a promised removal of visa requirements for visiting Europe.
The report said Turkey’s anti-terror laws were being applied too broadly. “The measures were taken since July … raise a number of very serious questions going to the heart of the rule of law,” Hahn said.
“These various actions, including considerations on reintroducing the death penalty, seem to be increasingly incompatible with Turkey’s official desire to become a member of the EU. It’s time Ankara tells us what they really want.”
In a separate interview with media, Hahn said Turkey’s EU candidacy was hanging in the balance.
Luxembourg and Austria, as well as some European lawmakers, called on the bloc to halt membership talks with Turkey or punish it with other sanctions.
But Germany, the bloc’s top power, opposes sanctions now and Chancellor Angela Merkel was a key driving force behind a March migration deal with Ankara that cut arrivals of refugees and migrants to Europe via Greece to a trickle after a mass and uncontrolled influx last year.
-Turkey slams report-
Turkey on Wednesday slammed as “far from objective” an EU report on its stalled membership bid that accused Ankara of backsliding on criteria and told the government to decide whether it was serious about accession.
“There are sections in the report that are very far from being objective,” Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik told a televised news conference in Ankara.
“We are faced here with a report that is far from being constructive and offering a way forward,” he added. “The report is written in a way that does not serve Turkey-EU relations and is far from the perspective of the accession negotiations,” said Celik.
“In the report, there are a lot of evaluations that show a lack of correct understanding about Turkey.”
Turkey’s accession bid dates back to the 1960s, with formal accession talks opened in 2005.
“The EU has turned into an institution that just publishes statements. Our business is not words — it’s getting things done,” Celik sniped.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly expressed fury that Turkey has been kept “waiting at the door” of the EU as it watched ex-Communist new members enter far more quickly.