BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union should formally suspend Turkey’s long-stalled talks on membership if it adopts constitutional changes backed at a referendum last week, a leading member of the EU parliament responsible for dealings with Ankara said on Wednesday.
Kati Piri said ahead of a plenary debate on the matter that if President Tayyip Erdogan implemented his new charter, giving him even more powers, Turkey would close the door on membership.
Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey would not wait forever to join the bloc, just a day after the EU executive’s top official for membership talks asked Europe’s foreign ministers to consider other types of ties with Turkey when they meet on Friday.
Ties between EU states and their NATO ally Turkey soured in the aftermath of a failed coup last July as the bloc was taken aback by Erdogan’s sweeping security crackdown that followed.
Austria has long called for aborting Turkey’s EU bid altogether but other EU states have been more cautious, highlighting that the bloc depends on Ankara to keep a lid on the flow of refugees from the Middle East.
Erdogan’s accusations around this month’s constitutional vote that Germany and the Netherlands act like Nazis have taken the relationship to new lows.
Piri, a Dutch center-left European lawmaker, said, “As Turkey with such a constitution cannot become a member of the EU, it also doesn’t make sense to continue the discussion on integration with the current government,”
“The EU should officially suspend the accession talks if the constitutional changes are implemented unchanged,” she told reporters, after the legislature last year passed a non-binding resolution calling for such a move.
Piri said any suspension should only come if and when the “authoritarian constitution” is enacted, which would happen after Turkey holds the next election, now due in late 2019.
She said Erdogan could bring them forward to swiftly assume more powers, though the Turkish leader said that was not on the agenda now.
Piri stressed, however, the process should be suspended rather than ended altogether: “I don’t want to take that perspective away from the Turkish population.”
“Turkey should remain a candidate country but we’re negotiating with the government. It’s become clear over the last two years that this government doesn’t want to meet criteria.”
She said she expected the EU’s foreign ministers this Friday would ask the bloc’s executive for a formal assessment of where Turkey stands on fulfilling these. Based on that, EU leaders could make further decisions when they next meet in June.
One tangible effect of suspending the process would be freezing the annual payments of some 600 million euros ($650 million) of EU pre-accession funds to Turkey.
Like Hahn, Piri said Brussels could instead step up talks on enhancing the customs union which Turkey already has with the EU, a process she said could take the next two to three years.
“Clear political benchmarks” on the rule of law and human rights should be part of the process, she said, hoping it would give Europeans leverage to persuade Turkey to reverse policies which the bloc says are undermining democracy there.
Piri said, however, that while the process could be launched, it cannot be finalised without a deal in separate talks on reuniting Cyprus, an island long split between an EU state backed by Greece, and their rivals supported by Ankara.
Editing by Louise Ireland