Rebecca Harms: ‘Possibility of Turkey sanctions has to be considered’

Rebecca Harms [European Parliament]

The leader of the Green-European Free Alliance group spoke to EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel about the EU’s refugee deal with Turkey and its current chances of EU membership in the aftermath of the attempted coup.

Rebecca Harms MEP is the president of the Green-European Free Alliance group and a member of the Alliance ‘90/The Greens at national level.

Harms spoke to Der Tagesspiegel’s Albrecht Meier.

After the attempted coup, the Turkish government has cracked down on its opponents. Is President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still a viable partner for the EU?

Since the coup attempt, Erdoğan has disregarded the rule of law. As far as I can tell, he’s persecuting thousands of people that he wants to make responsible for the failed coup. More than ever, he is looking to keep his political opponents and critics in check, while consolidating his own power. As a result, the EU’s existing policy towards Turkey has to be called into question.

The EU’s March deal on refugees with Turkey was signed long before the coup. Now, Ankara is saying that the current upheaval will not affect the agreement. Will the EU go along with Turkey out of fear that the refugee deal would otherwise collapse?

The European Union cannot kowtow on this. The EU is going to have to be prepared to take in more refugees from the crisis region around Syria, Turkey included. We must expect more Turkish refugees. I have always been of the opinion that the agreement with Ankara is important in order to improve the situation of refugees in Turkey as well. But, I have also advocated that the EU member states should directly take more refugees from Turkey and other countries that neighbour Syria, like the United Nations has called for. Dependence on Turkey when it comes to dealing with refugees is as a result of EU states refusing to take more war refugees directly from Syria.

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Should Turkey’s EU membership talks be called off?

It’s not exactly a strong signal, when the accession talks have stagnated for a long time anyway. At the moment, it seems completely pointless for the EU and Turkey to negotiate anything. But before everything is just thrown away, the European Commission and the member states governments should work out what the relationship with Turkey should look like in the future.

So should Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker submit an alternative plan to EU membership?

I wouldn’t say so. Now is not the time for far-reaching strategic questions about future links with Turkey. The EU has to deal with the most pressing matters first. How can we protect people being unjustly victimised in Turkey, for alleged involvement with the coup, denied constitutional protection and threatened with torture? And can we prevent the death penalty being reintroduced?

How can the EU actively come to the aid of people affected by human rights violations?

Juncker and his foreign affairs representative, Federica Mogherini, must enter into direct talks with Ankara about the human rights and rule of law situation in Turkey. It is not enough for them to just issue statements from Brussels. They have to enter into a direct dialogue with Ankara.

But what happens if this dialogue does not yield results?

I don’t know if talks with Ankara would lead to better situation, but I do know, from news coing out of Turkey from friends, that it has to be at least tried. We should remember that Angela Merkel and other leaders only recently brokered the refugee deal with Turkey’s government, where visa liberalisation was discussed and prepared. Another important point is that it is not just us that have an interest in Turkey, they have interests in the EU.

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On visa liberalisation: Ankara will have to satisfy certain criteria in order to qualify. Is Turkey ever going to meet the requirements set down by the EU, now Erdoğan is cracking down on his opponents?

Even before the mass arrests and dismissals, before the closure of universities and schools, Turkey did not fulfill the criteria needed for visa liberalisation. Erdoğan’s current approach is incompatible with it.

The leader of the German Greens, Cem Özdemir, has called for EU sanctions against Turkey if Erdoğan continues on this bearing. He also called for the accounts and assets of his inner circle to be frozen. Do you agree with this?

There are mass arrests and mass forced dismissals going on. Suspected political opponents have submitted confessions, which one has to worry were extracted under torture. Passports have been confiscated. There’s no press freedom anymore. In the south-east, the situation was already reminiscent of civil war before the coup was launched. Given these developments, the possibility of sanctions has to be considered. But the urgent priority right now should be for Juncker, Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Hahn, with support from the member states, to use diplomacy and dialogue in order to try to protect the thousands at risk in Turkey.

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