Turkey-EU relations braced for a major showdown after the Turkish government renewed its push for bringing the death penalty back, leading to mutual recriminations, trading barbs over recent days.
To reveal the gravity of the situation and its meaning for the EU, European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz even spoke about possible economic sanctions against Turkey over draconian emergency practices that destroyed central pillars of democracy and the rule of law.
As Turkey’s record on human rights hits lows, its ramifications for the EU accession process becomes evidently palpable with dying prospects for membership in the foreseeable future. The unrelenting political crackdown inside Turkey has left the EU with few options seen deterrent to force Ankara to change its policies at home.
Speaking to German’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Schulz said about the political climate in Brussels where EU leaders discuss imposing economic sanctions against Turkey in response to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s actions to curb the opposition. The consideration of such an option is preferred to terminating entire talks between Turkey and the EU, he argued.
“We as the EU will have to consider which economic measures we can take,” Schulz said.
One of the arguments he brought forward is that the breakdown in relations would leave the EU with no leverage and option that it could wield influence Turkey to help the opposition and those who are held in pre-trial detention.
But his warnings and comment fell on deaf ears in Ankara, prompting a swift rebuke from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who called on Schulz to do whatever possible to back up his threats.
Speaking at a press conference in Ankara along with his Chinese counterpart, Cavusoglu called on Schulz to remove banners and booths of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and the EU consider as a terrorist group, from EP building in Brussels. His criticism refers to periodic protests of pro-PKK groups near EP headquarters in Brussels as European Kurds demonstrate there against the Turkish state, set up tents and booths filled with PKK flags and images of imprisoned PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan.
Recent diplomatic dispute is a final reflection of a culminating process full of mutual distrust and recriminations. Turkey-EU refugee deal wavers on the brink of collapse. On Monday, EU foreign ministers convened in Brussels amid reports of the 27-member bloc now considering to shelve talks with Turkey entirely over the deepening political turmoil and collapse of the rule of law in the country.
In its upcoming annual progress report, the EU sharply criticized Turkey, only to be dismissed by Ankara as Turkey’s EU Minister Omer Celik disregarded the report as not objective and as a document that lacks factual basis.
Schulz warned that if Turkey brings capital punishment back, then the negotiations would end.
Another senior EU diplomat told Reuters that “If Turkey pushes through death penalty legislation, then the halt of the accession process will be automatic.” The issue is seen as a red line in Brussels where voices opposing Turkey’s membership have become bolder and louder.
Austria, Greece and Luxembourg recently suggested terminating talks with Turkey, but found little support as Germany sees NATO ally as an indispensable bulwark in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, and a key partner to curb migration from Syria to Europe.
The emergence of strong skepticism about Turkey’s membership in Brussels did not go unnoticed in Ankara. Turkish President Erdogan hit back and threatened to hold a referendum to part ways with the EU.
“The European Union is trying to compel us to withdraw from this (accession) process. If they don’t want us they should be clear about this, they should make a decision,” Hurriyet quoted Erdogan as saying.