Austria threatens to block Turkish accession | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 12.12.2016
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Austria threatens to block Turkish accession

Austria says it will send a "clear political signal" that the Turkish government's crackdown in the wake of the country's failed coup is unacceptable. Its foreign minister says the EU "must react" to Ankara.

Austria says the credibility of the European Union is at stake if it continues to treat Turkey as a potential member.  A day before foreign ministers are due to discuss Turkey's accession negotiations, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastan Kurz (pictured) demanded the process be stopped.

More terror attacks in Turkey over the weekend led President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to expand his purge of those he accuses of being involved in terrorist activities or the failed coup plot launched against him in July. Hundreds more people, including in particular members of the Kurdish-dominated People's Democratic Party (HDP), have now been added to the more than 100,000 individuals already dismissed from their jobs, thrown in prison or placed under official supervision. 

Kurz told DW this behavior is just not acceptable. "In Turkey, dissenters are intimidated, journalists and opposition politicians are imprisoned. The death penalty is to be introduced. We as the European Union must react to this," he explained. "[A]s long as the negotiations are not frozen, the European taxpayer's money flows into Turkey as a rapprochement support - hundreds of millions of euros each year. I do not know how to justify that."

Türkei Türkischer Polizist bewacht die Bilgi Univerität (Getty Images/AFP/C. Turkel)

EU Parliament called for a suspension of accession talks with Turkey

Kurz says the bloc should adopt the attitude of the European Parliament, which approved a non-binding measure last month 479 to 37, with 107 abstentions, calling for a suspension of talks due to Ankara's "disproportionate repressive measures." He's prepared to reject last month's European Commission progress report on Turkey, which would then prevent it being approved by heads of state later this week. That's a complicated move in itself, as it also would throw Balkan hopefuls into the same delayed status.

Reaction from Kurz's colleagues Monday was split. Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, whose country chairs the rotating presidency at the moment, says Tuesday's discussion will be "not easy." He disagrees with the Austrian view. "I don't think we have to stop negotiations," Lajcak said upon arrival at the meeting. "I believe we need to continue our dialogue with Turkey. Turkey is an important partner."

Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn agreed with Lajcak, saying a suspension would not help the Turkish people or stop the government from imposing the death penalty, which is against EU law.  It also won't help unfreeze the Cyprus issue, Asselborn added.

While not wishing to comment directly on whether the EU should freeze Turkey's accession process, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) agrees the best way to influence Turkey is stay engaged. "The EU should use its leverage on the issues in a strong, principled way to talk about the human rights crackdown in Turkey," said HRW's Turkey Director Emma Sinclair-Webb. "Those are the principles at the heart of the EU."

Türkei Sicherheitskräfte in Istanbul (Reuters/M. Sezer)

HRW has described life in Turkey as a 'climate of fear' following the failed coup

Speaking from Istanbul, Sinclair-Webb described life in Turkey as a "climate of fear," even for those people who are not politically engaged and at risk of being targeted by the government. The latest arrests are very concerning, she said, with months of purging already having created a situation with "the criminal justice system on its knees" and there's an "onslaught on the media."

In an October report, HRW highlighted abuses in the police detention system, which has only become more taxed with every name added to a purge list.  Sinclair-Webb said the increasing of "counter-terrorism" powers mean people picked up by the authorities can be held for 30 days without charges and the first five of those without a lawyer.

Talks were ongoing late Monday to find a compromise that would convince Kurz to approve conclusions prepared for the summit. However, he told DW he was fully prepared to stand alone and send a "clear political signal" rather than agree to "positive language... [which] absolutely does not fit the situation in Turkey at the moment."

Meanwhile in Ankara, Erdogan's party has submitted proposals to parliament that would change the Turkish constitution by vesting more powers directly in him and allow him to stay in power until 2029.

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