In the latest diplomatic escalation between the EU and Turkey, on Thursday the European Parliament voted to suspend Turkey's EU accession talks, which as a reminder have been dragging on for decades, if Ankara proceeds with its tplanned constitutional reform which grants sweeping powers to President Recep Erdogan. The resolution passed by the parliament in Strasbourg calls for the “ Commission and the member states, in accordance with the Negotiating Framework, to formally suspend the accession negotiations with Turkey without delay if the constitutional reform package is implemented unchanged."
"The current strategy of the European Commission and EU leaders seems to wait silently for things to improve in Turkey," said the European Parliament's lead negotiator on Turkey, Kati Piri, criticizing a stance which she said was "feeding President Erdogan’s authoritarianism."
Still, the vote was largely symbolic: the EU Parliament has limited influence on Turkey's decades-old pursuit of EU membership, now in limbo after bitter exchanges between Ankara and some European countries, but the decision does highlight the gulf which has grown between the two sides.
In response to the decision, Turkey's EU affairs minister, Omer Celik did what Turkey has always done best: ignored the decision, and announced that Ankara does not accept the EU Parliament report. Quoted by Reuters, Celik said Ankara regarded Thursday's vote in Strasbourg as invalid, while the foreign ministry was similarly dismissive.
"This decision, which is based on false claims and allegations, is trampling the reputation of the institution in question," the ministry said in a statement, referring to the European Parliament. "This decision is of no value for us." He added that Turkey "rejects with the back of our hand any proposals that there should be strong cooperation between Turkey and the EU in other areas instead of accession talks."
"The European Parliament has failed in its solidarity with Turkey following the coup attempt. We had expected strong support, but the call to end membership talks instead is wrong," Celik blasted.
The vote came one day after Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, told Reuters that Ankara was not responsible for the escalation of tensions with Brussels. "Europe displaying inappropriate behavior towards Turkey is not a situation we can accept. Being against our President Erdogan is also not a rational stance from Europe. Europe must decide… do they really want to enlarge?" Kurtulmus said.
While EU leaders have been critical of Erdogan and his behavior toward opponents, both before and after an abortive military coup against him last July, relations deteriorated following last April's referendum which will grant President Erdogan power to become the sole executive head of state, with authority to choose his own cabinet ministers, enact laws, call elections and declare states of emergency. It topped a year-long crackdown since the failed "coup" last June.
Erdogan has claimed that both the crackdown and the increased presidential powers are needed to help tackle serious challenges to Turkey's security both at home and beyond its borders.
Turkey's president has wasted little time, and some constitutional changes approved in April have already been implemented: Erdogan has been able to return to lead the ruling AK Party, and members of a top judicial body have been changed. Other steps, such as scrapping the post of prime minister, are due to take place within two years. Opposition parties and human rights groups say the changes threaten judicial independence and push Turkey toward one-man rule. The EU has also expressed concern, although many in the European Parliament believe the bloc has not gone far enough.
Finally, addressing the EU Parl decision, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that Turkey still wants to join the EU but the "bloc is confused and this needs to be fixed" and added that the parliament's decision had no value for Turkey and that it did not represent the views of higher European Union bodies.
The question is what will Erdogan's reaction be if, indeed, the decision does represent the views of all EU bodies.