EU calls on Turkey to save democracy, increasing criticism


By Alastair Macdonald | BRUSSELS

BRUSSELS The European Union issued a strong new call on Turkey on Tuesday to resume political dialogue with opposition groups and safeguard its democracy, describing recent developments as “extremely worrying”.

The statement, issued a day before an annual EU assessment of Turkey’s progress on meeting criteria for EU accession, noted discussion in Ankara of reintroducing the death penalty following July’s failed military coup, a crackdown on the media and the arrests last week of Kurdish lawmakers.

“The EU and its member states … call on Turkey to safeguard its parliamentary democracy, including the respect for human rights, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and the right of everyone to a fair trial, also in conformity with its commitments as a candidate country (for EU membership),” read the statement issued by foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

“In this regard, the EU and its member states will continue to follow and assess the situation very closely and they stand ready to continue political dialogue with Turkey at all levels, within the established framework.”

Turkey should pursue the Kurdish PKK as a terrorist group but the arrest of lawmakers from a legal Kurdish party was “polarising” society, it said.

“A return to a credible political process and to a genuine political dialogue is essential for the country’s democracy and stability in the region.”

The EU is engaged in a delicate stage of its relationship with its large Muslim neighbour, which acts as a buffer between Europe and an unstable Middle East. Since an agreement in March, Turkey has helped to all but end a flow of refugees and migrants to the EU via Greece after a million people arrived last year.

In return, the EU is providing aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, has pledged to revive Ankara’s membership talks and promised to ease visas for Turks visiting Europe.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn this week condemned the treatment of officials jailed or sacked since July as reminiscent of Nazi Germany and suggested Brussels could respond in time with sanctions on Turkey.

However, EU diplomats see little prospect of such a confrontation soon. The German government, which has a strong interest in maintaining the agreement on refugees and migrants, does not support the idea.

Visa liberalisation, on the table for years, is now held up by disputes over whether Turkey has met a set of requirements that include modifying anti-terrorism laws. The security crackdown after the coup attempt has added to EU reluctance.

With major elections looming over the next year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where anti-immigration parties are doing well and oppose easing visas for Turks, diplomats say that Brussels is in no hurry to push Turkey into meeting the requirements to complete the deal — especially since the flow of migrants remains at limited, manageable levels.

However, there is concern in Brussels that hardline tactics in Ankara could generate reactions that destabilise the country.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)