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Brussels: Turkey could face economic sanctions

November 13, 2016

Hard-line President Recep Tayyip Erdogan risks losing Turkey's lucrative customs union with the EU, its main trading partner. European Parliament chief Martin Schulz has said economic sanctions are being considered.

Türkische und EU-Flagge
Image: picture alliance/dpa/M. Schrader

European Parliament President Martin Schulz has confirmed rumors in Brussels that EU leaders at their summit in December could opt for economic sanctions in response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ongoing crackdown on dissent - instead of terminating controversial EU accession talks.

Schulz told Germany's "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper that breaking off talks with Turkey would rob the EU of the channels to help Turkey's opposition and the tens of thousands held in detention since July's failed putsch.

Martin Schulz
Accession negotiations still on the table: SchulzImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger

Instead, Schulz said: "We as the EU will have to consider which economic measures we can take."

He warned, however, that should Turkey under Erdogan reintroduce the death penalty - in breach of its obligations within the 47-nation Council of Europe - then accession negotiations "would be ended."

Trade: Erdogan's 'weak spot'

Schulz's remarks followed a commentary Saturday on German public radio Deutschlandfunk by the Brussels correspondent of "Handelsblatt" Ruth Berschens.

Since the signing of the customs union in 1995, the deal on duty-free exchanges in industrial products had made the EU Turkey's biggest trading partner, Berschens wrote.

Erdogan has wanted to widen the customs union to include more of the agricultural and service industries, she said.

Should the EU terminate the customs union, subject to renegotiation since 2015, this would amount to a "bitter setback" for many Turkish companies, she wrote.

"His political rise as chief of the governing AKP party was due especially to his successful economic policies. During Erdogan's [prime ministerial] period of government, a new middle class emerged in Turkey," Berschens said.

"The president cannot betray their interests; otherwise he could lose political support across the country," she said.

"That is Erdogan's 'weak spot,'" alongside the EU's deal on refugees reached in March and Turkey's role as NATO partner hosting troops from alliance nations.

"Exasperation is mounting among Europeans. In Brussels something is brewing. If the Turkish president persists [on his current course] then a decision could be made at the EU summit in December that could hurt Erdogan," Berschens predicted.

Ruth Berschens - Journalistin
'Many Turks reject a total break with Europe,' Ruth Berschens wroteImage: Handelsblatt Verlag

The European Commission had numerous reasons for not breaking off protracted talks on Turkey's bid for EU accession, she continued, adding that Brussels would walk "into a trap" set by Erdogan.

"The Turkish president is only waiting for the EU to finally place the stool before the door," said Berschens and added that Europe and especially Germany still had good reputations in Turkey.

"Erdogan doesn't want to take personal responsibility for a final rupture with Europe, because he would end up in great distress explaining himself to his fellow citizens," she said. "Many Turks reject a total break with Europe."

Akin Atalay Herausgeber Cumhuriyet
Atalay was arrested on arrival from GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/V. Arik

Cumhuriyet head detained

Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said late Saturday that Akin Atalay, the chief executive director of the Turkish opposition newspaper "Cumhuriyet," had been remanded in custody after returning from Germany.

Nine other "Cumhuriyet" staff and executive members are already under arrest.

Since Ankara declared a state of emergency in July following an attempted coup, some 37,000 people have been arrested in Turkey and more than 100,000 government employees have been dismissed or suspended. More than 170 media outlets have been shut down.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus claimed Saturday that the closures were necessary in order to address multiple terror threats.

Reporters under arrest

ipj/cmk (AP, dpa, Reuters)