Estonian Presidency passes Turkey decision to Bulgaria

Borissov and Mogherini on 5 October. Bulgaria will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January. [European Council]

Estonia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, made it clear that no decision would be made following Angela Merkel’s call to end Turkey’s membership talks this year, passing the responsibility to the next presidency – Turkey’s neighbour, Bulgaria.

Merkel called to put an end to Turkey’s EU accession talks during the first and only televised debate on 3 September, three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections.

Merkel and Schulz butt heads over Turkey and migration in only TV debate

Turkey’s place in Europe was in the spotlight during the only televised debate between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat challenger Martin Schulz on Sunday evening (3 September), which featured few other questions relating to the EU.

“The fact is clear that Turkey should not become an EU member,” said Merkel, in an unprecedented, clear rejection of Ankara’s accession hopes. She pledged to talk to EU partners about “a joint position […] so that we can end these accession talks”.

“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.

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.

The decision to end the EU-Turkey accession talks can only be adopted by unanimity of the 28 EU members. In Ljubljana, Slovenian diplomats told EURACTIV.com that it was very unlikely that all the EU members would back such a decision.

Bulgaria will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, in particular, has positioned himself as a close ally to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Bulgaria shares a long border with Turkey and is extremely vulnerable in the event Ankara changes policy and encourages the refugees on its territory to head further West.

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Among the member states, so far Austria has been the most outspoken advocate for freezing accession talks with Turkey, while Bulgaria has been the most vocal in objecting.

Bulgaria refutes Austrian claims of ‘joint position’ against Turkey

The Bulgarian foreign ministry on Monday (12 December) strongly refuted claims by Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz about a joint position of freezing accession talks with Turkey.

Bulgaria is also the only EU country having deported alleged supporters of preacher Fethullah Gülen to Turkey. In exchange, Turkey takes back migrants that succeed to cross the common border.

Bulgaria returns alleged Gülenists to Turkey

Bulgaria has recently extradited to Turkey at least six people who allegedly are related to the network of preacher Fetullah Gülen, considered by Ankara a terrorist organisation.

Turkey is meddling into Bulgaria’s elections and has established a pro-Ankara political party.

Bulgarian election candidates hit out at Turkey meddling

The two main candidates in Bulgaria’s upcoming parliamentary election singled out Turkey yesterday (20 March) in separate interviews with AFP for what they see as interference in the campaign.

However, the Bulgarian government prefers to look the other way, fearing Turkey’s fury.

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An adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened that if the European Parliament votes against lifting the visa requirement for Turkish citizens, his country would send refugees on its territory to the European Union.

Speaking in Slovenia, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini distanced herself from Merkel’s calls to end Turkey’s membership talks. She 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.