Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several senior EU officials are questioning the rationale of continuing membership negotiations amid fresh criticism over democracy and rule of law in Turkey—two essential conditions for joining the EU.
On Tuesday, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, expressed “grave concern” about plans to reinstate the death penalty, newspaper closures and arrests of prominent opposition politicians. She said these are “extremely worrying developments which weaken the rule of law, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and compromise parliamentary democracy in Turkey.”
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, on Wednesday is set to publish a report on Turkey’s membership bid. According to a draft version seen by The Wall Street Journal, the commission will conclude that the situation in Turkey with regards to the rule of law, media freedom and human rights—essential criteria for any country joining the EU—has deteriorated compared with 2015.
The EU’s 28 foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will have a first discussion on redefining the bloc’s relationship with Turkey and whether to suspend membership talks, according to two senior officials.
But governments in the bloc are divided on whether to take such a drastic step, which may imperil a highly-prized migration deal with Turkey and further strain ties with Ankara at a crucial point in the West’s fight against so-called Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. The migration accord has over the past few months has helped keep refugees out of Europe.
Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said it would be a “serious foreign policy mistake” to end membership talks, unless Turkey reintroduced the death penalty.
Mr. Juncker, who was involved in the negotiations of the migration deal with Turkey, last year postponed the publication of the enlargement report by a few weeks and watered down criticism contained in the initial draft, in order not to irk the Turkish government during sensitive talks.
But criticism hasn’t been watered down this year. The draft report notes that some 40,000 people have been detained after a failed coup attempt in July that targeted Mr. Erdogan and his government. It also confirms that nearly 140,000 public employees were sacked or suspended and more than 4,000 institutions and private companies were shut down and had their assets seized or transferred to state-owned companies.
“The broad scale and collective nature of these measures raised a number of very serious questions. There are serious concerns with regard to the vagueness of the criteria applied and evidence used ... leading to a perception of ’guilt by association,’” the draft report reads.
The business environment in Turkey was hit by the actions against critical media, business people and political opponents, while measures to improve the functioning of the markets for goods, services and labor have stalled. “Overall, there was backsliding,” according to the draft report.
As for the government’s strong-handed antiterror actions in the wake of several terror attacks attributed to the separatist group Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the commission reminds Ankara that any measure “must be proportionate and respect human rights,” the draft report states.
Turkey, the EU and the U.S. all list the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Turkish officials accuse pro-Kurdish lawmakers detained last week of supporting the PKK, a charge rejected by some of Turkey’s opposition parties and baffling to most European officials. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, said its deputies’ arrests mark the latest step in Mr. Erdogan’s march to dictatorship.
Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan himself questioned publicly whether to continue with Turkey’s decadeslong bid to join the EU.
“What are we to expect from the European Union that kept Turkey at its gates for 53 years? Let’s not kid ourselves; we will cut our own umbilical cord,” Mr. Erdogan said Sunday.
On Monday, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik told EU ambassadors that joining the EU remains a strategic goal for Turkey, but the bloc stands to suffer “great losses” if it scuttles Ankara’s push with its biases.