European Parliament votes to block Turkey's attempts to join EU

Advisory rather than binding vote likely to further sour relations between European nations and Ankara, 11 years after EU joining talks first began

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The Independent Online

The European Parliament has voted to freeze long-term plans for Turkey to join the EU in what is widely seen as a response to Ankara’s crackdown on political opposition and independent media since July’s failed coup.

MEPs voted 479 in favour on the motion amending EU-Turkey relations, with 37 against and 107 abstentions in a plenary session in Strasbourg on Thursday. 

The long-expected suspension had been criticised by those who say that rather than encouraging President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to change tack, the vote will only push the country towards adopting even harsher stances on human rights issues.

More than 40,000 people in Turkey have been jailed under emergency laws since the aborted military takeover this summer, and 100,000 fired from public sector jobs, many in schools and universities. 

“I believe the best way to strengthening Turkey’s democracy, the most effective way, is by engaging with Turkey, by keeping channels open,” EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini said ahead of the vote.

“If the accession process came to an end, I believe we would both find ourselves in a lose-lose scenario.”

The Turkish delegation to the EU said it was "dismayed" by the result, criticising the decision to uphold the motion as "lacking vision".

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The EU agreed to accelerated talks on the country becoming a member of the EU in February as part of a deal which would see Middle Eastern and African refugees arriving on European shores deported back to Turkey.

The deal has largely succeeded in bringing the numbers of people arriving from across the Aegean Sea down from a peak of over 2,000 people a day in 2015 to a current average of around 100 a day.  It also included £2.3 billion in promised aid, £5.7 million of which has been given so far.  

How the future of the strategy to combat the refugee crisis could be affected by Thursday's vote is unclear. 

In exchange for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU bloc, Turkey was also supposed to modify its anti-terror laws to bring them into line with existing EU policy.

However, Mr Erdogan has said that in the light of the July coup he will consider asking parliament to bring back the death penalty - which would definitely rule out the possibility of EU membership.

Turkey has suggested it may instead join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an economic bloc which includes China and Russia.

 

A formal suspension on the EU membership talks will not be possible until December at the earliest, and will require a vote by the European Parliament's member states. 

Turkey's European Union Minister Omer Celik was dismissive of Thursday's vote.

"We consider that decision null and void. It is not a decision that can be taken seriously because of the vision it has and the language that pervades the text," he told a televised news conference. 

Mr Celik's comments follows President Erdogan's, who said ahead of the vote that the exercise was "worthless" and accused Europe of taking the side of “terror organisations". 

His country's “struggle for its stability and future won't be interrupted by [European legislators] raising and lowering their hands,” Mr Erdogan added. 

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