Turkish ministers pushing for EU accession in Brussels have been told by the EU there will be no progress until Ankara restores human rights. It's Brussels' most public criticism in the aftermath of Turkey's failed coup.
Johannes Hahn, the EU's membership commissioner, told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at a press conference Tuesday that Ankara must reverse its trend toward authoritarianism before any progress could be made on Turkey's entry bid.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also cited what she called a "worrying pattern of imprisonments of a large number of members of [Turkey's] democratic opposition, journalists and human rights defenders."
EU officials stressed that the talks were not being suspended but new topics were not being added to the accession agenda.
Mogherini described Tuesday's talks as constructive despite public verbal sparring between the commissioners and the visiting Turkish ministers. She even alluded to this, saying that the direct talks in Brussels were more productive "than talking about each other with the media."
"The rule of law, the right to a fair trial, due process, the freedom of expression and assembly, good neighborly relations are key principles that Turkey has committed to, not only as a candidate country [for eventual EU membership], but also as a member of the Council of Europe," Mogherini said. "We have witnessed a worrying pattern of imprisonments of a large number of members of the democratic opposition, journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey."
Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik acknowledged what he termed "disagreements" but said the accession procedure's so-called chapters dealing with Turkey's judiciary, fundamental rights and security should be opened.
Cavusoglu told the EU it was being misled into criticizing Ankara over arrests and trials of prominent journalists and rights activists, claiming that "pseudo-journalists" had helped in "terrorist activities."
"There are those journalists, soldiers, politicians who helped the coup attempts last year. They need to also face the sentences that are necessary," Cavusoglu said.
Shortly before Tuesday's meeting, Mogherini had met the secretary-general of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, who presented a petition signed by a million people calling for the release of rights activists in Turkey.
"Our message is very clear. Turkey has been seeing a very steady deterioration in its human rights situation since the attempted coup," Shetty told DW on Tuesday. "And right now, it has arrested 10 very well-known human rights activists and defenders, including the chair and director of Amnesty International in Turkey. So the message was that what we need is the immediate and unconditional release of these 10 activists."
Since last year's failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his regime has jailed 50,000 people, pending trial, and dismissed 150,000 more from their jobs.
Turkish officials argue the crackdown was justified by the gravity of events on July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers were blocked by crowds summoned by Erdogan.
New low in relations
The row recently reached a new low over Ankara's denial of access for German parliamentarians to NATO air bases inside Turkey and the detention in June of Amnesty's head official for Turkey, Taner Kilic.
"Human rights, the rule of law, democracy, fundamental freedoms – including media freedom – are all basic imperative requirements for any progress towards the European Union," said Hahn.
Previously, EU officials had held back from public criticism of Turkey, a vital ally of the West in the war against "Islamic State" militants in Syria and Iraq and in tackling Europe's migrant crisis.
ipj/msh (dpa, AP, Reuters)