The European Commission's assessment of candidate country Turkey has sparked a heated standoff. With patience seemingly running short, each side has accused the other of stalling Turkish membership negotiations.
The European Commission released a scathing report on Wednesday concerning Turkey's accession progress. The Turkish government's post-coup crackdown on civil rights, the judiciary and press freedom all made the prospect of EU-membership increasingly unlikely, the report said.
In the escalating standoff, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later challenged European leaders to "go and make a final decision" on Turkey's membership.
"They say, unabashedly and shamelessly, that the EU should review its negotiations with Turkey," Erdogan told an Istanbul business group. "You are late, go and review them as soon as you can. But don't just review them - go and make your final decision."
However, Erdogan also said the EU would never reach that "final point" and cut ties out of fear that it would jeopardize its migrant agreement with Turkey.
Erdogan told business leaders: "You know those 3 million refugees in Turkey? They say there is a problem. What if the negotiations end and they open the gates, where would we put those 3 million refugees? That is their worry. That is why they cannot come to the end point."
The Turkish president's comments came after the EU's annual assessment of candidate countries accused Turkey of "backsliding." A number of emergency laws introduced since the failed July coup were incompatible with EU standards, the report said. In particular, EU officials expressed concerns with Turkey's anti-terror law, the arrests of Kurdish lawmakers, human rights offenses and calls for the death penalty to be reinstated.
Later, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said Turkey's increasingly authoritarian government is hampering its bid to join the 28-member bloc. Speaking to reporters, Hahn reinforced the Commission's stance that democratic values were not up for negotiation.
"[Turkey] is certainly not heading in the European direction," Hahn said. "Turkey is an EU candidate, and that means they have to accept that we apply higher standards... If they don't want to accept it, they have to face the consequences."
"It is time Ankara tells us what they really want," Hahn said.
However, it is up to EU governments, not the EU Commission, to decide how accession negotiations should continue. Foreign ministers of the 28 member states are scheduled to meet in December. Greece and Austria have already called for an end to membership talks with Turkey. On Monday, Luxembourg's foreign minister said the EU should impose sanctions on Turkey and that the Erdogan government's purge against the political opposition was reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
Germany, meanwhile, has opposed sanctions and highlighted Ankara's key role in helping combat terrorism in the Middle East.
Turkey is also a key partner in the EU's migrant policy. In March, both sides agreed to stem the flow of Middle East migrants entering Greece through Turkey, in return for a package of incentives, including billions of euros and visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens.
The deal was also meant to accelerate Turkey's accession process. However, the agreement stalled amid Ankara's reluctance to change its anti-terror laws; a condition, the EU said, is essential before it lifts visa restrictions.
dm/sms (Reuters, AP)