A recommendation last week by the European Parliament to suspend talks aimed at allowing Turkey to join the European Union could pave the way to an actual halt in the negotiations despite the vote being non-binding.
A press release issued by the E.U. after high-level talks with Turkey in Brussels on Friday confirmed that accession talks were at a standstill and said that the “Turkish government’s stated commitment to EU accession needs to be matched by corresponding reforms.”
The meeting was attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the official overseeing E.U. expansion. It followed the March 13 vote in which 370 E.U. lawmakers supported suspending Turkey’s accession bid, while 109 voted against it, and 143 abstained.
After the European Parliament vote, the spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) called the decision “worthless, invalid and disreputable.”
A final decision will be up to member governments. A suspension could jeopardize some E.U. funding to Ankara and rattle foreign investors who have provided crucial loans to fuel Turkish growth.
Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and former parliamentarian with the main Turkish opposition party, wrote in an email to The Media Line that Turkey's comments in favor of membership at the Friday meeting was meant to reassure investors.
"The Turkish GDP has been contracting for the last two quarters, and the government is desperate to boost confidence in the economy," he wrote.
The European Union recently stated it would give €1.5 billion to Turkey to help support the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in the country. The money was initially promised as part of a 2016 deal to stop migrants from coming to Europe.
Muzaffer Senel, an assistant professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul Şehir University, wrote in an email to The Media Line that cutting off negotiations would be costly for both sides although he also did not believe that the talks would progress.
“Relations will be in silence mode,” Senel wrote, adding: “This will last till Turkey starts to make reforms on democratization and rule of law.”
Since a failed coup in 2016, Ankara has cracked down on the press in part by jailing dozens of journalists, as has suspending or fired 150,000 people civil employees, including judges, teachers and police officers accused of links to the coup.
These and other government measures have brought condemnation from human rights groups that accuse Turkey of using the attempted takeover to stifle dissent. The Turkish government has said it acted swiftly to reimpose order and security after the coup attempt, which left over 240 people dead, most of them unarmed civilians.
Nate Schenkkan, who focuses on Central Asia and Eurasia for Freedom House, told The Media Line that E.U. member states had been making it clear to Turkey for well over a decade that it would not be able to join the bloc, regardless of what it did, which could have decreased Ankara’s motivation to make democratic reforms.
“That was extremely unhelpful, without question,” he said.
Schenkkan said the top problem now was Turkey’s consolidation of power.
“It’s an extremely centralized system,” Schenkkan said. “[Erdogan has] really an extraordinary amount control… that affects [the country’s] democratic performance.”
Other top concerns he cited were the curtailing of press and social freedoms, as well as the jailing of members of opposition parties.