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European Union

EU lawmakers urge suspension of Turkey membership talks

A broad majority of EU lawmakers have called for ceasing membership talks with Turkey due to its post-coup purges and President Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian actions. But EU's top diplomat has warned against it.

The European Parliament debated Turkey's EU membership issue on Tuesday - the second day of a four-day plenary session.

"Our message to Turkey is very clear: accession negotiations should be frozen immediately," said Manfred Weber, head of the center-right European People's Party, the largest faction in the European Parliament.

Guy Verhofstadt of the liberal alliance echoed his views: "There is broad, broad majority in the house to say you have to freeze accessions talks for the moment and put a number of conditions to restart them once Turkey is compliant."

Ankara has been seeking the European Union's membership for years, but the 28-member bloc has turned increasingly critical of the Turkish government's post-coup purges. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime has suspended or arrested more than 110,000 people - including soldiers, academics, judges, journalists, activists and Kurdish leaders - over their alleged backing for the plotters of a failed military coup in July.

"Turkey under Erdogan is more and more drifting towards an authoritarian regime," said Gianni Pitella, leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament. "Our political message towards Turkey is that human rights, civil rights, democracy are non-negotiable if you want to be part of the EU," he added.

EU leaders are due to discuss the issue again when they meet in Brussels on December 15.

A 'lose-lose scenario'

Despite this broad consensus on halting Turkey membership talks temporarily, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was against such move.

"I think the best way to strengthen Turkish democracy … is by engaging with Turkey, keeping channels open," she told parliament.

Türkei Ankara Präsident Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Getty Images/AFP/A. Altan)

Erdogan's regime has arrested more than 110,000 peopleover their alleged backing for the plotters of a failed military coup in July

"If the accession process came to an end, I believe we would both find ourselves in a lose-lose scenario," she added.

Erdogan has also ratcheted up his anti-EU rhetoric, warning that the bloc would have to "live with the consequences" if it ceased talks. He also threatened to join an alliance led by China and Russia.

In March, the EU promised to accelerate Ankara's accession talks in exchange for its cooperation in keeping migrants away from European shores. Halting Turkey's membership talks could also risk Erdogan canceling the refugee agreement with the EU.

While Austria and Luxembourg lead calls to stop membership talks, Germany, France and most other EU states favor continued engagement with Ankara. But all member states agree that if the Turkish government reinstated death penalty, the talks would come to an end.

shs/mg  (Reuters, dpa)