EU Parliament votes for freeze of Turkish membership talks

AFP , Thursday 24 Nov 2016

European Parliament
Members of the European Parliament take part in a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, November 24, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

The European Parliament on Thursday voted to freeze membership talks with Turkey over its "disproportionate" post-coup crackdown, further escalating tensions with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey immediately branded the non-binding vote "insignificant", while Erdogan had already said in his latest broadside against the European Union that the result was worthless.

Most EU states meanwhile want to keep the Turkey talks on track, but the vote by a large majority of MEPs will only add to the bad blood in the wake of the July 15 failed putsch.

Lawmakers voting in Strasbourg, France, said the parliament "strongly condemns the disproportionate repressive measures taken in Turkey since the failed military coup attempt".

They said they remained "committed to keeping Turkey anchored to the EU" but said that parliament "calls on the Commission and the Member States, however, to initiate a temporary freeze of the ongoing accession negotiations with Turkey."

The motion was approved by 479 votes to 37, with 107 abstentions.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hit out at the EU for a "lack of vision".

"It is insignificant from our aspect," he said in a televised speech.

"The EU should understand and decide whether it wants to shape its future vision with or without Turkey".

Turkish EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said the vote was "null and void" and accused the European Parliament of jumping on the bandwagon of "far-right" parties.

"Such a resolution... only serves the objectives of the far right, Islamophobia and xenophobia," he told a news conference.

The decision hit the embattled Turkish lira -- boosted by a rate hike earlier in the day -- to leave the currency losing 1.50 percent against the dollar on the day.

A furious Erdogan said on Wednesday that "this vote has no value at all" and accused Europe of taking the side of "terror organisations".

"It is not possible for me to even digest the message that they want to deliver," he said.

Europe's message has however been increasingly clear about its concerns over rights and democracy in Turkey, especially over the coup crackdown that has seen almost 37,000 arrested.

Turkey formally applied to become an EU member in 1987 and accession talks only began in 2005, even though Ankara's aspirations to become part of the bloc dates back to the 1960s.

While the vote will have no concrete effect as all EU member states except Austria so far want to keep the accession process going, it is yet another blow to relations that seemed to be improving before the July crisis.

Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian premier who now leads the Liberal group in the EU parliament, called on the European Commission to "implement the recommendation as soon as possible".

Verhofstadt dialled up the rhetoric earlier this week when he accused Erdogan, US President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin of being part of a "ring of autocrats" trying to harm the EU.

Turkey and the EU had agreed to speed up the long-stalled membership talks after both sides reached a deal in March to curb migrant flows towards the European Union.

Brussels agreed to give visa free travel for Turks once it carried out key reforms and give more aid to Turkey, in exchange for Ankara cutting the number of refugees to the Greek islands.

But the process has stalled after the failed bid by a rogue group in the army to bring down the Turkish government -- making the call for a freeze largely symbolic.

The mass arrests and job dismissals as well as measures against Turkish media in the ensuing crackdown triggered a sharp reaction from EU politicians and rights watchdogs.

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