EU Votes Against Turkey's Membership Talks Amid Concerns Over Press Freedom

Recep Tayyip Erdogan - H 2013
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Recep Tayyip Erdogan - H 2013

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to freeze negotiations following Turkey's post-coup crackdown on journalists and opposition politicians.

The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to block Turkey's attempts to join the European Union. The Parliament passed a resolution calling on the EU's executive body, the European Commission as well as the group's 28 national governments to impose a "temporary freeze" on Turkey's EU membership talks.

The vote was clear: 479 in favor, 37 against and 107 abstentions.

Although it is nonbinding, the vote sends a powerful signal to Ankara that Europe does not approve of the actions taken by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan following a failed coup against his government earlier this year. Erdogan has engaged in a purge of his political and ideological opponents, arresting tens of thousands of opposition politicians, journalists and others allegedly linked to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based preacher whose group is accused by the Turkish government of having masterminded the coup.

In the resolution, Parliament said Turkey should remain "anchored" to the EU and pledged to review its position once the "disproportionate repressive measures" in Turkey were lifted. "Turkey is an important partner of the EU," it said. "[But] Turkey is not showing this political will as the government's actions are further diverting Turkey from its European path."

The words, however, are likely to fall on deaf ears. Ahead of the vote, President Erdogan dismissed the resolution as "worthless." Since the coup attempt, Erdogan has accused the EU of siding with "terrorists" rather than supporting his country.

The EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has also said Europe should not halt accession talks with Turkey, calling the move a "lose-lose scenario." The fear is that an increasingly anti-Western Erdogan could jettison a deal struck between the EU and Turkey earlier this year to stem the flow of migrants through Turkey to Europe.

In addition to the political and media crackdown, plans by Turkey to reintroduce the death penalty have sounded alarm bells in the EU capital of Brussels. The death penalty is banned across the European Union. If Ankara brought it back, it would most likely end all talk of EU membership for Turkey.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament also issued a report calling on the EU to do more to counter Russian "disinformation and propaganda warfare," accusing Russian-backed media outlets of undermining European democracy and supporting anti-EU and extreme-right political movements.

Parliament accused the Kremlin of funding media outlets, including English-language site Sputnik News and news network RT, spreading fake news and sponsoring Eurosceptic movements in Western Europe to "distort the truth, provoke doubt, divide the EU and its North American partners, paralyze the decision-making process, discredit the EU institutions and incite fear and uncertainty among EU citizens."

Representatives from populist groups such as France's National Front, the UK Independence Party and Italy's 5-Star movements voted against the motion.