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Time to revaluate the EU's relationship with Turkey

Posted by Nick Prag at 27 April 2017, 23:35 CET |
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With concerns mounting over the state of democracy in Turkey, the European Parliament this week debated options for future relations with the long-standing candidate for EU membership.

While the EU and Turkey have enjoyed a productive relationship in many areas for decades, relations are now under unprecedented strain. Concerns are mounting over the state of democracy in the country as media outlets have closed and journalists have been jailed.

It is not surprising that the EU's patience is wearing thin, and it is left with little alternative to rethinking how it cooperates with Turkey.

The 16 April constitutional referendum in Turkey, which gave the president additional powers, despite doubts about its legitimacy, have brought relations to a new low.

Many MEPs were keen to make the distinction between Turkey's government and leadership and the millions of people in Turkey who share Europe's values. For these, the EU remains an anchor for reforms in their country.

However, for many MEPs, full membership of the EU is no longer seen as a realistic option.

Turkey has been an associate member of the European Economic Community since 1963 and applied to join in 1987. It was recognised as a candidate for EU membership in 1999, but negotiations didn’t start until 2005. So far 16 out of 35 chapters have been opened and only one has been closed. Last November MEPs adopted a resolution asking for the negotiations to be temporarily suspended while repression continues in Turkey.

Guy Verhofstadt MEP has proposed creating a new association agreement with Turkey focussing on trade and restoring civil society.

Other forms of cooperation remain open. Both Turkey and most EU countries are members of Nato. In addition they work together on issues such as migration. In March 2016 the EU and Turkey concluded an agreement to tackle the migration crisis, which led to significantly fewer migrants reaching Europe illegally.

 

Parliament's president Antonio Tajani warned against closing the door to the Turkish people. However, he added that Europe could not "look the other way when events proceed in the opposite way of European construction.

“Freedom of the press, freedom of expression, are vital rights for anyone wanting to join the European Union and the death penalty, similarly, is an inviolable red line,” he said.

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of EUbusiness.com. Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.