EU MPs set to back Turkey membership bid freeze

23.11.2016

The European Parliament's main groups said on Tuesday that they will vote this week to freeze membership talks with Turkey over its crackdown after a coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The vote threatens to deepen the rift between Ankara and the European Union, although it will not be binding and European Union states are for the most part against halting the drawn-out accession process.

"No business as usual with Turkey, we support a freeze of EU accession negotiations," said Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People's Party, the largest group in the parliament.

Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist group, the second biggest in the assembly, added: "Turkey's EU accession talks must be temporarily frozen. There are not the conditions to proceed now." Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Pittella said it would send a "political message to Erdogan" to stop the "mass detention, accusation of political leaders and MPs, repression of judges & journalists."

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium, said that his group too was "asking to supend the negotiations with Turkey." Verhofstadt had earlier accused Erdogan of being part of a "ring of autocrats" along with Russian President Vladimir Putin and, potentially, US President-elect Donald Trump who were trying to undermine the EU.

But EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that halting Turkey's accession process would be a "lose-lose" move.

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.

Turkey and the EU agreed to speed up membership talks in March as part of an accord on curbing migrant flows into Greece in exchange for Turkey getting cash and visa-free access for its citizens. But the process has neared collapse as Brussels has harshly criticised the Turkish government's crackdown on alleged coup plotters, urging Ankara to comply with rights and freedoms criteria.

Erdogan warned the EU last week to make a decision by year's end on Turkey's membership or he would call a referendum on the matter.    (AFP)

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