ANKARA: The European Union will hold a crucial vote on whether to maintain negotiations to bring Turkey into the bloc before local Turkish elections.
On Wednesday, a European Parliament committee voted to suspend the years-long talks, which have foundered over Ankara’s human rights record and the centring of power in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hands.
A final vote in the parliament’s plenum has not been set but will take place before the Mar 31 vote in Turkey, according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The assembly’s decision on the course of relations with predominantly Muslim Nato ally will be critical because Ankara’s cooperation is vital to stemming the flow of millions of refugees to Europe from the Middle East and elsewhere.
A vote against Turkey could boost Erdogan’s AK party in the local elections by giving him ammunition to bolster his assertions that Europe has opened a diplomatic campaign against his country.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy blasted the committee’s non-binding decision, saying its draft report was full of “baseless allegations and is a new sign of the European Parliament’s prejudice against our country.”
He expressed hope in a statement that Turkey’s objections will be taken into account in the final report.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in November that it would be “more honest’’ for Turkey and the EU to end accession negotiations because Turkish membership is not realistic in foreseeable future.
The European Parliament last year reduced EU aid for Turkey, criticising what it calls democratic backsliding since Erdogan vastly increased his powers under a presidential system.
Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said in an online statement after the committee vote that lawmakers “attach consequences to Erdogan’s authoritarian grip on power.”
Turkey, she added, is a country where “human rights violations and arrests of journalists occur on an almost daily basis while democracy and the rule of law in the country are undermined further.”