07:30, July 25 303 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-25 07:30:03
EU urged to call off Turkish accession talks

The EU is coming under fresh pressure to end Turkey’s hopes of joining the bloc before talks on Tuesday between senior Brussels officials and the Turkish foreign minister.

Manfred Weber, the German leader of the largest party in the European parliament, called for the long-running negotiations on Turkish membership to be brought to an end as concern grows that Ankara is moving further away from EU values following the recent detention of human rights activists.

“The EU should set itself the goal of ending the accession talks,” said Weber.

The local director of Amnesty International in Ankara and five other activists have been held in custody in recent weeks on accusations of belonging to a terrorist organisation. Four other human rights campaigners were re-arrested over the weekend after being released on bail.

The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and its EU affairs minister, Ömer Çelik, are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday evening. Discussions are expected to touch on Ankara’s EU accession, immigration, Turkey’s demands for visa-free travel for its citizens, the fight against terrorism and energy and trade ties.

The German government has taken a tougher line on Turkey than the EU as a whole since the failed coup last summer. Since then, 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial.

The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has accused the country of acting like communist East Germany by arresting people and denying them consular help. Berlin has also warned about travelling to Turkey and accused its courts of inventing links between human rights organisations and terrorist groups.

Weber said he was pleased that the German government had spoken out about the detention of the activists, including a German national, but it was time for Brussels to show equal nerve.

“Turkey is clearly moving away from the European Union and our values,” Weber told the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. “The EU has repeatedly extended its hand to Turkey through various initiatives but President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan has consistently spurned it. Turkey’s EU accession makes no sense.”

Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said he also believed that, beyond ending the accession talks, the EU had a strong hand to play. “From Turkey’s obligations as a member of the Council of Europe, the funding it receives from the EU, its membership of the customs union, the EU has lots of levers,” Shetty said, following a morning meeting with Mogherini.

Shetty said that he had passed on a petition signed by 900,000 people calling for the release of the activists. “She took the petition and said she would pass the message to the minister,” he said. “But the EU needs to offer more than words.”

Erdoğan has responded to German statements aggressively in recent days, accusing Berlin of meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs. “Our judiciary is more independent than theirs,” he said last week.