EU membership ‘no panacea’ for Turkey’s closer ties with Europe – Austria's Kern

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern © Lazslo Balogh
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has hit out at the EU Commission chief for still courting Turkey for eventual membership, arguing that this ignores Ankara’s drifting away from the union. Instead there should be a “new form” of relations, Kern said.

“The negotiation process, which is considered a panacea for Turkey getting closer ties with Europe, has not brought exactly anything,” Kern said in an interview with the Oesterreich newspaper on Saturday. 

The official lashed out at the EU commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, saying that such tactics will yield no results.

“If anyone, as Juncker does, promises to the Turks that we will conduct talks with you and at the same moment says that Turkey will not join in any case, then it is not a reasonable stance in regard to either Turks or Europeans.”

In early August, Kern, a staunch opponent of Turkey’s EU membership, said Ankara’s accession to the bloc is a “diplomatic fiction” and cannot become reality “within the coming decades.”

Back then, the official also demanded the EU countries discuss the suspension of membership talks. 

In the immediate reaction to the move, Juncker claimed the decision should be taken “by all members” and labeled the potential suspension a “severe mistake in foreign policy.”  

Yet, at the same the Commission chief said that “Turkey in the current situation cannot become a member of the Union.” Potential introduction of death penalty was one of the key reasons cited by the eurocrat. Turkey vowed to bring back the measure following a foiled coup on July 15. 

Kern on Saturday countered that officials in Brussels simply ignore concerns of the people, including those of Austria.

“If you sit in Brussels in the Commission building, one naturally has a different perspective than if you speak with the people [on the street],” Kern said, referring to the fallout of EU opening borders to Turkey.

Kern, however, said that Turkey will still remain a partner for the EU in areas like refugees and security and that he “would not want to lose” Ankara in that regard.

“We simply need a new form of cooperation,” the chancellor added.

Following the coup in Turkey, Luxembourg’s foreign Minister Jean Asselborn also vowed to “keep the door open” for Turkey to enter the EU. He insisted that it was important to think about the people in the country, who “set lots of hope into the European Union”. 

The view was countered by the Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in an interview to the German Focus on August 16. 

“We must not give in to blackmailing and we do not need a Plan B, but a solid Plan A. We need a strong Europe that protects its own external borders,” Kurz said, referring to European concerns that Ankara might suspend refugee deal with the EU.

He also said that the bloc should not cave in to pressure from Turkey to introduce visa-free travel with the country.

In June, Turkey once again warned it will hold a referendum on whether to press on for EU accession, unless there is progress in negotiations on visa-free travel with the bloc. The comments were the reaction to earlier calls by Juncker for Turkey to fulfill “all of the 72 conditions for lifting the visa requirement.”