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20 Jun, 2017 12:31

Euro MPs urge scrapping Turkey accession talks over Erdogan's sweeping powers

Euro MPs urge scrapping Turkey accession talks over Erdogan's sweeping powers

The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs have adopted a resolution urging Brussels to formally suspend EU accession talks with Turkey, if a constitutional change granting President Erdogan sweeping powers goes ahead.

The resolution came as part of an annual assessment of Turkey's reform progress by Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs, according to a Tuesday press release from the European Parliament. 

Referencing a recent vote which gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping powers, the European Parliament called on the EU to "formally suspend the accession negotiations with Turkey without delay if the constitutional reform package is implemented unchanged."

Erdogan's controversial referendum victory means he will become the sole executive head of state, with authority to choose his own cabinet ministers, enact laws, call elections, and declare states of emergency. Prior to the referendum, the role of the president in Turkey was more of a ceremonial one.

The parliament's press release also criticized Ankara's actions following last year's coup attempt.

"MEPs think that measures taken in response to the coup attempt are disproportionate, regretting the large-scale dismissal of civil servants, the closing of media outlets, the arrest of journalists, judges and human rights defenders, and the closure of schools and universities," it states.

The MEPs have expressed concern that Turkey will "backslide" when it comes to the rule of law, human rights, media freedom, and the fight against corruption. They also condemned the Turkish governments "repeatedly declared support for the reintroduction of the death penalty," which would "put into question Turkey's membership in the Council of Europe and lead to an immediate end of EU accession talks."

Turkeys bid to join the EU has been stalled for decades, and was further strained following Ankara's response to last year's coup attempt, as well the decision to grant Erdogan sweeping powers.

The EU previously laid out a list of 72 requirements for Ankara to meet before being able to join the bloc. Although Turkey fulfilled most of the conditions, officials say it failed to comply with the most important one, which was to relax its strict anti-terrorism laws, said to have been used to silence Erdogan's critics.

Last year, Ankara agreed to a landmark migrant deal with the bloc which would see it take back all illegal migrants landing in Greece from its shores, in exchange for accelerated talks on becoming a member of the bloc and billions in refugee assistance from the EU. Turkey also rallied for visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens as part of the deal, a condition which led has Ankara to threaten to ditch the agreement if it isn't granted. 

The European lawmakers did, however, recognize the "importance of good EU-Turkey relations and maintaining a constructive and open dialogue" on Tuesday, calling it key to addressing challenges such as migration, security, and terrorism.

"MEPs propose upgrading the EU-Turkey Customs Union, by making human rights and fundamental freedoms part of a new agreement," the press release states.

The Tuesday resolution was adopted in a 51-3 vote, with 14 abstentions. The full house is set to vote on the issue during the upcoming plenary session next month.