Turkey and the EU’s Diplomatic Stalemate

Why Neither Side Wants to Terminate the Membership Process

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoganmeets with European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, May 2017. Francois Lenoir / REUTERS

On July 6, 2017, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the suspension of accession talks between the EU and Turkey. This is not the first time the parliament has expressed concerns over the state of Turkey’s bid, having passed a similar resolution in November 2016. On the surface, the body’s repeated calls for a freeze of talks and a reassessment of Turkey’s EU candidacy highlight growing concern over Ankara’s democratic credentials, particularly in the year since the failed attempted coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his subsequent declaration of a state of emergency.

The newest resolution specifically calls for a halt in talks should the Turkish constitutional reforms that were adopted in April 2016 (and are expected to come into effect in 2019) be implemented as currently drafted. The European Parliament claimed that the proposed reforms would create a political system that fails to respect the separation of powers or offer sufficient checks and balances and thus would not comply with the criteria for accession. The resolution also notes with alarm Erdogan’s repeated declarations of support for the reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey (prohibited by Article 2 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), as well as his repressive use of state powers during the state of emergency.

What the resolution does not do, however, is suggest that the EU should cut ties with Turkey or close the door on continued partnership with the country. Rather, it calls for sustained, and even increased, collaboration across a broad spectrum of issues, including trade, counterterrorism, and, of course, the ongoing refugee crisis. The contradiction between threatening to freeze accession negotiations over democratic backsliding and infringements of human rights on the one hand, and underscoring the importance of Turkish-EU economic and security cooperation on the other, illustrates today’s stalemate in EU-Turkish relations. On the other side, as much as Erdogan may chafe at the repeated public admonishments of the EU, he is unlikely to unilaterally cut ties with

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