Erdogan Pressed by EU on Democracy as U.K.’s Johnson Makes Debut

  • EU foreign ministers discuss failed Turkey coup, terrorism
  • France’s Ayrault calls for Brexit negotiations to start soon

The French and Turkish Challenges Facing the EU

European Union governments warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against using the failed coup to erode democracy as they also deliberated over the latest terrorist attack in France and confronted Boris Johnson at his first EU meeting as U.K. foreign secretary.

Johnson and the EU’s 27 other foreign ministers start Monday’s talks in Brussels with a discussion with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. For Johnson, the leading pro-Brexit supporter who once compared the EU’s ambitions to those of Adolf Hitler, it could be an awkward debut.

“We are not in any way going to be abandoning our leading role in European cooperation, participation of all kinds,” Johnson told reporters on his way into the meeting. “When you look at the discussion on the table this morning over Nice, the horrific events in Nice, and Turkey where we have to work very closely together, you can see the importance of that.”

The wide-ranging agenda for Johnson’s first meeting, overhauled twice as first the Nice attack and then the Turkish coup attempt competed for attention, underlines the crises swirling around Europe. As if the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU wasn’t destabilizing enough, extremist violence at home and turmoil in Turkey -- a country at the forefront of Europe’s twin battle against terrorism and the refugee surge -- are adding to the sense of alarm.

Islamic State

The EU won’t make any decisions on Monday. The ministers will instead use the opportunity to step up their commitment to fighting terrorism together and send a message to Turkey’s Erdogan, whose cooperation they are relying upon in their efforts to stop refugees entering Europe through Greece and in their battle against Islamic State.

“The democratic and legitimate institutions needed to be protected” in Turkey, EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters. “This obviously doesn’t mean that the rule of law and system of checks and balances in the country does not count; on the contrary, it needs to be protected for the sake of the country itself.”

While the U.K.’s withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc is not officially on the list of topics for Monday’s meeting, it will never be far from the surface. Johnson held talks with Mogherini on Sunday evening and ministers addressed the issue as they arrived on Monday morning.

“The sooner the negotiations start, the better,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, adding that he had a “frank” telephone conversation with Johnson on Saturday.

Destabilizing Forces

For many European governments, there is a link between Johnson’s successful campaign to lead Britain out of the EU and the increasingly loud anti-establishment voices across the region that are seeking to capitalize on the destabilizing forces on their doorstep.

“In the U.K. it was the case during Brexit, it was the influence of the migration issue; if you put together migration, security, a very long economic crisis for 10 years, you have grounds favorable for populist parties,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said. If you have a security problem with so many terrorist attacks, it’s normal you have a strong reaction.”

As for Johnson, some of his new EU colleagues may find it difficult to forget his remarks about Hitler.

“We’ll listen today, to see if he still thinks the same,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said.