July 5, 2017 / 4:52 PM / 2 years ago

EU lawmakers call for freeze in Turkey accession talks

FILE PHOTO: European Union (L) and Turkish flags fly outside a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - EU lawmakers called for a suspension of Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union on Wednesday, saying President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on opponents meant Ankara did not meet the bloc’s democratic criteria.

A vote on the proposal is expected to pass comfortably on Thursday, given support from the biggest parties, but the parliament has limited influence on the issue. The European Commission and EU governments have so far ignored calls for a formal suspension of a process already effectively in limbo.

“We are not calling to stop all dialogue or cooperation, talking about integration is just not realistic at this moment,” Kati Piri, the lawmaker who drafted the recommendation that will be put to the vote, told reporters before the debate.

EU leaders have been critical of Erdogan and his behavior toward opponents, both before and after an abortive coup against him a year ago. But they do not want to undermine an agreement struck last year whereby Turkey effectively stopped migrants reaching Greece, easing a crisis that had threatened EU unity.

Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner responsible for membership talks, told lawmakers there could be no advance in those negotiations unless Turkey met EU demands to respect political freedoms. However, he said the EU would remain “engaged” and made no mention of halting the accession process.

In reality, there has been little progress on Turkey’s membership bid since negotiations were formally launched 12 years ago.

Many EU leaders question whether Turkey, a large, relatively poor and overwhelmingly Muslim country, should ever be let in and many Turks have also cooled to the idea.

Reporting by Elizabeth Miles in Brussels, editing by Alastair Macdonald and Gareth Jones

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