Erdogan Warned to Tread Carefully With Turkey's EU Entry at Stake

  • Sunday’s referendum consolidated more power under Erdogan
  • Austria’s Kern says Turkey’s EU membership has been ‘buried’

European governments warned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he risked further alienating Turkey following his narrow victory in a contested referendum.

Officials in Austria, Bulgaria and Brussels called for Turkey’s European Union accession process to be reconsidered as a result of the referendum, which will consolidate Erdogan’s powers, giving him the authority to appoint ministers and top judges and to call elections at any time. 

European officials have deplored the concentration of so much power in one person’s hands and the U.S. State Department cited “observed irregularities” in the conduct of the vote. The result imperils Turkey’s efforts to become a member of the 28-member EU, a goal it has been working toward for more than 50 years.

“The approval of the constitutional changes makes the prospect of Turkey’s accession to the EU recede even further,” Luigi Scazzieri, research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, said in an emailed statement. “Many European leaders are already calling into question the future of the accession process.”

‘Been Buried’

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said foreign ministers from the 28-nation bloc, who have a planned meeting in Malta next week, will discuss the outcome of the referendum and the future of Turkey’s relationship with the EU.

“The membership perspective has de facto been buried,” as Erdogan “has told all of us that he considers Europe to be a dilapidated continent,” Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said in a statement. “This means for us that we’re now entering a new era, that we need a new arrangement of our political relationship with Turkey.”

Sunday’s vote, in which the approval of expanded presidential powers won by a majority of 51.4 percent, came under suspicion and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe faulted the process.

“In view of these observers’ reports, the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we call on the Turkish authorities to consider the next steps very carefully,” Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for the European Commission, said on Tuesday.

Voting Standards

The OSCE’s head of mission, Tana de Zulueta, said on Monday that freedom of expression was curbed during the campaign, that the conditions of the vote fell “well short” of international standards, and that some election monitors were inhibited from doing the job they were invited to do. Turkish opposition figures have already demanded the vote be annulled.

In another challenge to Turkey’s European partners, Erdogan said a separate referendum might be held on putting an end to its EU candidacy. Previously, he’d promised to “revisit” the European relationship once the referendum was out of the way. The president also touted the possibility of reinstituting the death penalty, which Turkey abolished in 2004 to meet a condition for EU membership.

“Erdogan’s plan to hold a referendum on the death penalty, which he will probably win, is a red line, which in an elegant manner practically puts an end to Turkey accession to the EU,” Bulgarian Vice President Iliyana Yotova said in an interview with Nova TV in Sofia on Tuesday.

Gianni Pittella, president of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, said that accession talks with Turkey should be suspended immediately and that the vote represented a blow to democracy and the rule of law.

Rule of Law

“What’s important now is that Turkey enacts these constitutional changes in a way that sustains democracy, respects the rule of law and protects fundamental freedoms in line with international commitments,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London on Tuesday.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said on Sunday that they were awaiting the evaluation of the referendum and hoped “for a cooling of internal tensions in the country and the involvement of opposition groups on the road to implementation of reforms.”

The balloting was held under a state of emergency that’s been in place since a failed coup last July, and is in the process of being extended for three more months. Since the takeover attempt, some 40,000 of Erdogan’s alleged opponents have been jailed and about 100,000 more fired from civil service jobs.

Accession talks “were more or less frozen or derailed almost as soon as they began,” Amanda Paul, senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, said in an interview. “There are already a lot of nails in the coffin but obviously there’s a chance that the final nail will be hammered in in the coming weeks and months.”

— With assistance by Boris Groendahl, Slav Okov, and Alex Morales

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