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European ministers say Turkey’s EU accession talks at a ‘standstill’

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Turkey’s EU accession talks have come to a “standstill” as the country moves further away from the bloc, with little prospect of change in the near future, the Hürriyet Daily News reported on Wednesday, citing EU ministers.

At the same time, however, they praised Turkey for its “constructive cooperation” in addressing the migrant crisis.

“The council [of ministers] notes that Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union,” an EU affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg said in a statement.

“Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing and no further work towards the modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen,” it said.

The council also underlined the “continued need to focus” on the rule of law and fundamental rights in Turkey.

“The council is especially concerned about the continuing and deeply worrying backsliding on the rule of law and on fundamental rights including the freedom of expression,” the ministers said.

“The deterioration of the independence and functioning of the judiciary cannot be condoned, nor can the ongoing restrictions, detentions, imprisonments and other measures targeting journalists, academics, members of political parties including parliamentarians, human rights defenders, social media users and others exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms.”

The ministers, however, did acknowledge that Turkey remains a “key partner” for the EU on issues such as helping halt the migrant influx into Europe.

The council “remains committed to maintaining an open and frank dialogue, to addressing common challenges and to cooperating in essential areas of joint interest such as migration, counterterrorism, energy, transport, the economy and trade,” the statement said.

“The continued implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, which reduces irregular and dangerous crossings [by migrants] and saves lives in the Aegean Sea, is in the interest of both sides and remains crucial,” it added.

Turkey hosts nearly 3.6 million Syrian refugees, according to a refugee association’s data.

In March 2016, Turkey and the EU signed a deal aimed at stemming the irregular migration flow through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers. The deal also aimed to improve conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The statement said Turkey’s “constructive cooperation” on the migration crisis has “delivered clear results.”

“The council reiterates that continued implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement and continued support for partners along the Western Balkans route is required,” it added.

“The EU will continue its financial support and technical assistance to strengthen cooperation in this field, including through the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey,” according to the statement.

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