Top Turkey MEP urges talks with Erdogan on accession
By Eszter Zalan
The MEP and rapporteur on Turkey has called for EU leaders to meet with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and ask if his country still wants to join the European club in the wake of a referendum that gave him massive powers.
"EU and Turkish relations are at their lowest point ever, it would have been timely for EU leaders to call for a meeting with the Turkish government, and ask them where do they want to go with the accession," Kati Piri told EUobserver on Wednesday (19 April).
"Invite him [Erdogan] to Brussels and ask him what he wants," Piri said. "We have to be able to sit down and talk, even if it won't be a pleasant talk."
The European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey said the European Commission's call on Turkey to investigate reported fraud and irregularities during the referendum was "the least" the EU executive could do.
International observers said on Monday the Turkish referendum did not meet international standards, and the opposition did not have equal campaign opportunities.
Opposition parties in Turkey challenged the result, while the parliament in Ankara agreed on Tuesday to extend the state of emergency for three months, allowing the government to rule by decree.
Officially, 48.6 percent of Turk voters rejected the constitutional amendments that give Erdogan control over the parliament, judiciary and ministries, and could keep him in power for life.
Piri said one way the EU could continue to support the Turkish people was by redirecting the country's annual €600 million pre-accession funds toward helping civil society exist, or journalists who are out of work because of Erdogan's crackdown on the media.
She argued that the funds should be converted and concentrated on those who share European values and are now under "tremendous pressure".
She also argued for increasing people-to-people contact, for instance through the Erasmus+ education program.
Piri added that the European Commission could suspend the funds altogether if Turkey did not meet the so-called Copenhagen criteria on rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy.
The commission, however, has said the pre-accession funds were not put into question following the controversial referendum.
"This is a well-established track with very specific conditions, we do not improvise," the EU executive spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday.
Piri said that the 2016 migrant deal between the EU and Turkey was not threatened by the referendum and its consequences, even though any cooperation with Turkey is "very tense".
She said that neither side has an interest in annulling the deal.
Erdogan has been threatening to call off the deal, which calls for Ankara to crack down on migrant smugglers and provide care and shelter for almost 3 million asylum seekers on its territory in exchange for €6 billion in EU aid aimed at helping migrants.
"The migration deal is the biggest card Erdogan has in his hands against the EU, he is not the sort of politician who gives up cards," Piri said.
The Social-democrat Dutch MEP regretted, however, that the EU has not been vocal enough on Turkey's backsliding on democracy since it made the deal on migration with Ankara in 2016.
"I am not saying we can't make a migration deal, but it cannot come at the expense of what is happening now in Turkey," she said. "Just staying silent won't help."
The European Parliament will debate next week the latest developments in Turkey.