15th Oct 2019

MEPs defy Turkey on eve of entry talks

  • MEPs called Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide a "prerequisite for accession" (Photo: European Commission)

In a strong message of frustration with the Turkish stance on Cyprus, the European Parliament on Wednesday postponed the ratification of a key customs agreement with Ankara - dismaying the commission, but not endangering the start of entry talks on 3 October.

Under EU law, the European Parliament has to formally ratify an agreement on the extension of the customs agreement between the EU and Turkey to all new member states - including Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognise.

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But the conservative EPP group in the parliament today (28 September) successfully achieved suspension of ratification of the deal, with 311 against 285 MEPs voting to postpone the ratification.

EPP group leader Hans-Gert Pottering said ahead of the vote that there had not been any "appropriate statement" by the Turkish government on Ankara's commitment to the customs agreement.

MEPs had demanded a public guarantee from Turkey that the Turkish parliament, in its ratification process, would not at the same time endorse Ankara's unilateral declaration issued last June saying that Turkey does not recognise Cyprus.

Formal ratification of the agreement by the European and Turkish parliaments is no precondition for the opening of EU membership talks with Turkey, scheduled for 3 October.

But the commission said today it regretted the Parliament's decision.

Enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn stated "Unfortunately today's decision does not strengthen our position in urging Turkey to stick to its commitment, that is following the signature, to ratify and implement the protocol without delay".

The commission and member states are pressing Ankara to first ratify and then fully implement the customs agreement, meaning that Ankara is obliged to stop blocking Cypriot ships and planes from its territory.

But now the commission claims MEPs have complicated these efforts by blocking ratification by the EU itself.

Socialist and liberal MEPs also regretted the postponement of the ratification, with liberal MEP Andrew Duff describing the decision as "stupid, short-sighted and mean-spirited".

Resolution seeks tough human rights guarantees

The Parliament in a separate resolution backed the opening of membership negotiations with Turkey on 3 October.

But the resolution, which is non-binding, further pressurises Ankara by highlighting Turkish failures in meeting human rights standards.

The text explicitly mentions the case of Orhan Pamuk, a well-read author who was recently charged by a Turkish prosecutor to have "denigrated" the nation by publicly raising the issue of the Armenian genocide in 1915.

MEPs urged the commission to suspend the accession talks once started, in case of a persistent breach of human rights or the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

The parliament called for further guarantees by demanding that each session of the negotiations at ministerial level be preceded by "an assessment of the political criteria in both theory and practice, thus exerting permanent pressure on the Turkish authorities to maintain the pace of the necessary reforms".

Following an amendment by French MEPs, the parliament resolution also calls on Turkey to recognise the genocide of Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915, considering this a "prerequisite for accession to the European Union".

The Euro-Armenian federation last week staged a high-profile conference in the parliament, drawing attention to the issue.

EU split on Western Balkans accession

Europe's credibility is at risk in the Western Balkans, half its member states have warned - but EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Albania and North Macedonia unlikely to start accession talks soon.

Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal

Serbia will never recognise Kosovo, Serbia's foreign minister has said, as the Western Balkans heads into a new period of turbulence.


EU report recognises Albania's achievements

Albania currently faces a serious crisis, which it would be foolish for all actors in the international community to ignore. Yet we must ask that our partners in Europe read Federica Mogherini's report carefully and recognise accomplishments.

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