EU parliament advises freeze of Turkey's membership talks
ANKARA, Turkey – The European Parliament has advised the European Union to freeze accession talks with Turkey amid growing concerns over the country's human rights and democracy. Turkey rejected Thursday's move, calling it an attempt to "sabotage" relations with the EU.
The legislature voted 477-64 with 97 abstentions to approve a non-binding report recommending the suspension of the negotiations in the wake Turkey's referendum in April that approved constitutional amendments to give the president sweeping new powers.
The parliament called on the EU's 28 states to formally suspend the talks "without delay" if the constitutional reforms are implemented without change in Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said what mattered was the opinion of EU leaders and that there was no change in Turkey's aim for EU membership.
"The EU should determine its vision for its future and decide whether or not it will walk with Turkey," he said.
The EU has been concerned by declining human rights, media freedoms and rule of law issues in Turkey. Frequent comments by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowing to re-instate the death penalty have also raised alarm.
Turkey embarked on an unprecedented crackdown in the aftermath of last year's failed military coup attempt, arresting some 50,000 people and dismissing tens of thousands civil servants, which the EU has criticized as a disproportionate response.
"This Parliament speaks with one and clear and loud voice in condemning the Turkish government's serious decline in democratic standards," said Kati Piri, who prepared Thursday's report.
Omer Celik, the minister in charge of relations with the EU, slammed the report as "geared toward sabotaging relations" and said Turkey would consider it "null and void" as it has done with equivalent reports in the past.
"When the report reaches us, we will return it to the (European Parliament) without making any assessments," Celik told reporters.
Before the vote, Celik said the decision would go down in history as a "terrible mistake" and that European lawmakers should be standing in solidarity with Turkey following last year's failed coup attempt.
The minister also said Turkey would never accept any proposal to reformulate EU-Turkish ties through a series of agreements on immigration, combating terrorism and trade.