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article imageEU countries urge caution on Turkey membership talks

By Damon WAKE (AFP)     Sep 7, 2017 in World

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's call to end Turkey's EU membership talks met resistance Thursday from many of her European partners, who warned against hasty action against a crucial ally.

Merkel said during an election debate on Sunday that she would ask the EU to terminate Turkey's accession talks, in a sharp escalation of an already bitter diplomatic spat.

A crackdown in Turkey in the wake of a failed coup last year has soured relations with the EU, and last week European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Ankara was "withdrawing from Europe by giant steps".

But on Thursday, Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, whose country holds the bloc's rotating presidency, said no decision would be made on the matter before a commission assessment of Turkey's bid, expected early next year.

"I do not expect the European Union to make any decisions in that regard during this year," he said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Tallinn, Estonia's capital.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pursued a purge of opponents since the coup in which which more than 50,000 people have been arrested and almost three times that number have lost their jobs, including teachers, judges, soldiers and police officers.

A dozen German journalists and activists have also been arrested, fraying relations with Berlin yet further.

- 'No! No! No!' -

In December, EU member states agreed that no new accession chapters would be opened until Ankara reversed course, but Turkey remains an important player for Europe on a number of key issues, not least the migrant crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini on Thursday he wanted to "avoid a rupture" with Turkey, which he called an "essential partner".

Echoing this measured tone, Mikser said the EU should "tread very carefully" with Turkey, which is also an important member of NATO.

Most EU member states are also part of NATO.

"While discussing Turkey's status as a candidate country we should also discuss the future relationship in all its aspects, and not make any hasty decisions without looking at these things comprehensively," Mikser said.

Lithuania's Linas Linkevicius gave an even more emphatic response, barking "No! No! No!" when asked if accession talks should be ended.

And Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini added his voice to the calls for calm, saying dialogue was more useful than cutting ties.

"We know that there is problems with human rights in Turkey, but I am not in favour to cut the negotiations, because I think if we don't talk with each other this is not a very constructive way to go forward," he said.

- Election gambit -

The EU and Turkey last year signed a deal which has helped stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants into Greece.

Ankara has threatened to rescind the pact at times when tensions have flared with Brussels over concerns of human rights abuses.

Turkey began formal membership talks in 2005 after years of resistance from some EU members such as France, which were wary of admitting a largely Muslim country.

Progress has been slow and the negotiations came to a virtual halt last year after Turkey began the crackdown following the coup.

Merkel's remarks on Sunday drew a typically robust response from Erdogan, who compared them to "Nazism", but several European figures have suggested looking on her call in the light of her re-election battle.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said further discussions would follow the September 24 election in Germany, echoing comments by EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini earlier this week.

Mogherini said that geography and history made Turkey and the EU inescapable partners and the two sides should focus on ways to cooperate constructively.

"I would suggest that we look beyond what is said in the electoral campaigns both in Turkey and in the European Union," she said at a strategic forum in Bled.

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