German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call to stop Turkey’s European Union accession talks drew a mixed response from the bloc’s foreign ministers on Thursday, while French President Emmanuel Macron said Ankara remained a vital partner of the EU.
NATO allies Germany and Turkey have traded increasingly bitter words over the last two years. But the EU as a whole has been alarmed by President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent following a botched coup in Turkey in July 2016.
Merkel announced her toughened stance on Turkey’s long-stalled EU bid in a TV debate last Sunday with her main rival in national elections due on Sept.24.
Arriving at talks with his EU colleagues in the Estonian capital Tallinn, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was Turkey itself that was moving away from the EU, while Austria’s Sebastian Kurz reiterated his line that the talks should end.
But the foreign ministers of Finland and Lithuania spoke out against breaking off the negotiations.
“No, we should continue the process and engagement. It’s not easy but we have to value contacts,” Lithuania’s Linas Linkevicius told reporters.
“By stopping, by cutting, we will not make a good thing because we will encourage them even more to go away. I think the effect would be the opposite than what we’d wish.”
Turkey’s EU ties minister, Omer Celik, is due to join the bloc’s 28 officials for talks in Tallinn later on Thursday.
The French president told Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper that ties with Turkey should be maintained even if the country had strayed from the EU path.
“Turkey has indeed strayed away from the European Union in recent months and worryingly overstepped the mark in ways that cannot be ignored,” he said.
“But I want to avoid a split because it’s a vital partner in many crises we all face, notably the immigration challenge and the terrorist threat.”
A senior Turkish official said EU states must decide whether they wanted Turkey as a member, but there was a sense “they no longer want the marriage…(but) want cohabitation”.
The EU is eager to preserve a deal that has stemmed the mass migration via Turkish territory of people from conflict areas. Turkey has in the past questioned the EU’s sincerity in keeping its side of the arrangement.
“We have to tread very carefully and, while discussing Turkey’s status as a candidate country, we should also discuss the future relationship in all its aspects,” Estonia’s Sven Mikser said in Tallinn.
He said he did not expect the EU to make any formal decision this year, adding that the bloc needed to cooperate with Ankara on migration and security in particular.
Bert Koenders of the Netherlands said he agreed with Germany’s call to also stop separate talks on upgrading the EU’s customs union with Turkey but suggested Berlin’s stance would only become clear after the parliamentary vote later this month,
“We will have to see what happens,” Koenders said. “After the German elections will be the time for more discussions on this.”