23rd Mar 2018

EU willing to keep contact with Turkey

  • Turkish president Erdogan (c) with EU council and commission presidents Tusk (l) and Juncker. "We need to keep channels of communication open." (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The EU has condemned the latest raft of arrests in Turkey, but is not yet considering changing its relationship with the country.

"The European Union is gravely concerned about the detention last night of several HDP members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on charges alleging support of terrorist activities," the EU chief diplomat Federica Mogherini and neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a statement.

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Eleven MPs, including party leader Selahattin Demirtas and vice-chair Figen Yuksekdag, from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested on Friday (4 October). All had refused to answer judges about alleged crimes linked to "terrorist propaganda".

Mogherini and Hahn pointed out that Demirtas and Yuksekdag were both democratically elected leaders" and the EU's "trusted and valued interlocutors".

"These developments add to the concerns we expressed after the immunity of more than 130 democratically elected members of parliament was lifted in May this year," they said.

They added that the arrests "compromise parliamentary democracy in Turkey and exacerbate the already very tense situation in the South East of the country," where authorities are fighting Kurdish forces.

In a separate statement, European Parliament president Martin Schulz said that the arrests sent "a chilling signal about the state of political pluralism in Turkey".

He added that actions by Turkish authorities "call into question the basis for the sustainable relationship between EU and Turkey."

In Berlin, the German government urged the Turkish government to give HDP members "a fair trial" and summoned the Turkish charge d'affaires.

The crackdown on leaders of a political party come after more than 30,000 people have been arrested, since a failed coup on 15 July, under a state of emergency that has been prolonged until mid-January.

In the meantime, the government is considering reintroducing the death penalty despite warnings from the EU and the US.

Next week, the EU commission is expected to publish its annual report on enlargement process with several countries, including Turkey.

The final decision on the recommendations will be taken at the last minute, but a suspension of enlargement talks with Ankara is not yet on the table, officials say.

"We need to keep channels of communication open," a source said, even if Mogherini and Hahn's statement was designed to tell Turkish president Erdogan that he is going too far.

Reputation damage

The EU still needs an interlocutor in Ankara, to talk about the internal situation in Turkey, with opponents and civil society under pressure and an estimated 3 million Syrian refugees living in camps, as well as about the situation in the region with the war in Syria.

Although the commission still thinks that Turkey has made the strategic choice to turn to Europe decades ago, its leverage seems limited now that Erdogan is intent to focus on his position inside Turkey, with Russia as a new partner.

For the EU, Turkey remains a crucial partner to manage the flow of refugees to Europe, according to an agreement signed off in March.

On Thursday, Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu again threatened to scrap the deal if his country was not granted a visa-free regime by the end of the month.

But EU officials believe that pressure has already put Turkey in a more difficult position inside Nato and that Ankara will be careful to protect its reputation in the international community.

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