‘Negotiations are fiction’: Austria & Turkey in EU membership spat

© Francois Lenoir
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has urged the EU to halt membership talks with Turkey following Ankara’s crackdown in the wake of the failed July coup. Turkey’s EU affairs minister said the statements were “disturbing” and “similar to the far right.”

"It's disturbing that [Kern’s] statements [on ending EU membership talks] are similar to those of the far right,” Turkish politician Omer Celik said, as quoted by Reuters.

He added, however, that the EU's founding values remain a reference point for Turkey: “Criticism is surely a democratic right, but there has to be a difference between criticizing Turkey and being against Turkey."

It comes shortly after Austria’s chancellor slammed Turkey for the crackdown launched following the failed anti-government coup in mid-July, saying the response shows Turkey can’t now be part of the EU.

"We have to face reality: the membership negotiations are currently no more than fiction," Kern told Austrian broadcaster ORF on Wednesday.

"We know that Turkey's democratic standards are far from sufficient to justify its accession," he added.

Kern also directed his criticism towards the Turkish economy, saying it is still far below the EU average and can’t satisfy the bloc’s essential requirements.

Turkish membership would therefore cause "massive economic upheaval," the Austrian chancellor warned, adding that the EU should look for “new alternatives” to help Turkey’s economy improve.

Kern did, however, say that "[Turkey] remains an important partner in security and integration matters."

His comments look like the possible preamble to a debate about the Turkish membership issue at the upcoming European Council summit on September 16.

Meanwhile, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has taken the opposite position, stating that closing the EU's door to Turkey would be a "serious foreign policy mistake," Reuters reported.

Speaking to German broadcaster ARD, Juncker stressed that he does not believe it would be a good idea for Brussels to end negotiations with Ankara.

In March, Turkey and the EU signed an agreement in which Ankara said it would take back Syrian migrants landing on Greek islands, in exchange for visa-free travel, billions of euros in aid, and speeded-up EU membership talks.

Two days ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara “will no longer respect” the March migrant deal unless the visa-free regime is approved.

On Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara would halt the migrant deal with the EU if Brussels stops efforts to provide a visa-free travel regime for Turks by October.

EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger last month ruled out the visa-free travel point due to the July 15 coup attempt and subsequent crackdown.

Purges have been launched that have seen 13,000 people, mainly soldiers, being detained, and some 65,000 public servants and teachers being suspended. The Turkish government has also hinted at the re-introduction of the death penalty.

The government has claimed that all those detained are linked with the alleged coup mastermind, cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has been in exile in the US for the past 15 years.

Turkey has asked for his extradition, saying just over a week ago that ties between Ankara and Washington will suffer unless Gulen is sent back. The US has repeatedly responded that Turkey must provide clear evidence of Gulen’s link with the attempted coup before any discussions about a possible extradition.