EU Pressures Erdogan on Human Rights, Turkey’s Role in Syria

  • Bloc’s foreign ministers discuss situation since failed coup
  • Democratic principles must be upheld, U.K.’s Johnson says

European Union governments ramped up pressure on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to safeguard human rights in the wake of July’s botched coup as they tried to nudge Turkey to stick to a deal that curbs the flow of migrants and to play a responsible role in Syria.

As Erdogan’s government continues a crackdown on thousands of soldiers, teachers, judges and business leaders since the failed putsch, EU foreign ministers are seeking to angle the president’s focus toward guaranteeing democracy. At stake is a key part of Europe’s solution to a migration crisis that’s stoked populist sentiment and frayed social cohesion from Stockholm to Athens.

“Support for Turkish authorities cannot be separated from our commitment to human rights and rule of law,” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters Friday on the way into a two-day meeting of the ministers in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Europe’s governments are treading a fine line since Erdogan’s aggressive response to the failed coup, which has altered the two sides’ relationship after they sealed a pact in March aimed at reducing the number of refugees making their way through the Balkans and into central Europe and Germany.

The influx slowed to a trickle after Turkey agreed to accept the return of people who had entered Greece illegally. In return, Erdogan was promised 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in migrant aid, faster progress in EU membership talks and visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens.

The visa-liberalization pledge hasn’t yet been realized because Erdogan hasn’t scaled back tough anti-terrorism legislation that European leaders say undermines democratic standards. Turkey has pledged to end the migration agreement unless the EU delivers in October.

European leaders watched on uneasily as Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency since the failed putsch, jailed more than 20,000 suspects and removed almost 80,000 people from public duty.

EU-Turkey Pact

“It’s important to stress that any reaction to that attempted coup has to be in conformity with democratic principles and should be proportionate,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said as he entered Friday’s meeting.

The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos held a constructive meeting with Turkish officials on Thursday, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Friday.

The meeting demonstrated “our willingness to do everything we can on our side to comply with the sets of obligations under the EU-Turkey agreement, under the understanding that our Turkish friends and partners will do the same,” Schinas said.

Syrian Conflict

Erdogan’s actions in Syria are worrying Europe’s leaders, too. Turkey launched its biggest military operation in Syria on Aug. 24, aiming to force Islamic State militants away from its border and deter further advances by Syrian Kurds allied with Turkish separatists.

“In the past days, Turkey has undertaken a clear and active military role in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said before the Bratislava meeting. “We all have an interest in making sure there’s no lasting military conflict on Syrian territory.”

European leaders including French President Francois Hollande have expressed concern about Turkey’s military intervention in Syria because it is aimed at both Islamic State and Kurdish forces that are fighting IS.

— With assistance by Jones Hayden

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