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Resuming EU accession talks unlikely without reforms, MEPs say

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Members of the European Parliament warned in a report adopted by the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) on Tuesday that without clear and significant progress on EU-related reforms, the European Parliament cannot envisage resuming accession negotiations with Turkey.

In the report adopted with 448 votes in favor, 67 against and 107 abstentions during the plenary session of the EP in Strasbourg, which runs between June 6 and 9, the MEPs warned that in spite of Turkey’s repeated statements that it aims to become an EU member, over the past two years the country has consistently gone back on its commitments in relation to the accession process.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says from time to time that Turkey is committed to its goal of full membership in the European Union but complains that the union is wasting Turkey’s time.

Turkey’s relations with the EU date back to 1963. The country was named a candidate in 1999, and negotiations for full membership started in 2005. The EU has suspended talks with Turkey due to the EU’s unhappiness with what the union has described as a decline of democratic norms in the country.

The MEPs said the European Parliament cannot at this stage justify modifying its position concerning the formal suspension of the accession negotiations with Turkey, which have effectively been at a standstill since 2018.

“By openly defying the binding rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the case of Osman Kavala and others, the current Turkish Government has deliberately demolished any aspirations of reopening the EU accession process at this time,” the MEPs added.

Turkey refuses to release Kavala, a businessman and a rights advocate, despite a binding judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in December 2019 finding that his detention for allegedly directing and financing the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013 and for alleged involvement in a failed coup in July 2016 was in pursuance of an “ulterior motive,” that of silencing him as a human rights defender.

In April an İstanbul court sentenced Kavala, who had been behind bars without a conviction for over four years, to aggravated life on charges of “attempting to topple the government,” while sentencing seven other defendants to 18 years each on charges of aiding the attempt.

The report also pointed to the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Turkey, with MEPs regretting the sustained legal and administrative pressure on civil society and human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists. They also called on the European Commission to provide sufficient funding for pro-democracy efforts in Turkey.

Erdoğan is accused by critics of establishing one-man rule in the country, silencing dissent, engaging in massive corruption and using the state’s resources for the benefit of his family and cronies while the Turkish people are overwhelmed by the increasing cost of living caused by the depreciation of the Turkish lira and a record level of inflation at around 70 percent.

Meanwhile, the MEPs also called on the Turkish government to handle Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications in good faith, to engage constructively in efforts to solve possible outstanding issues and to refrain from exerting any undue pressure in this process. “In the current serious circumstances, it is important that all NATO allies act with foresight and swiftly ratify the accession protocols of the two countries,” they added.

All 30 NATO members need to agree to admit a new member, and Turkey has voiced objections, citing the presence in the two Nordic nations of militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

“Instead of regaining trust – a much-needed asset in EU-Turkey relations – we are now losing it; the irresponsible veto in NATO and the rising tensions with EU member states are worrying signs for the future, marked by a pre-electoral situation in the country. If there is no change, I can hardly see the accession process surviving another five years,” said rapporteur Nacho Sánchez Amor about the possible course of Turkey’s EU membership process.

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