Turkish return to death penalty would be ‘KO’ to membership dreams

The Commission's latest report on Turkey's progress is highly anticipated, given the decisions the current regime has made in the past months. [Shutterstock]

In one week, the European Commission will present its progress report on Turkey. But Erdoğan’s policies continue to rub Brussels up the wrong way. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Back in the spring, when the EU-Turkey refugee agreement first got off the ground, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was already putting pressure on Brussels to keep open Turkey’s accession process and to speed up the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

Since the coup attempt in mid-July and the subsequent purges of the state’s apparatus, arrests of journalists and curbs of press freedoms, a response from the EU has been expected more and more. Next week’s presentation of the Commission’s accession progress report to the Parliament is therefore eagerly anticipated.

Austrian Foreign Ninister Sebastian Kurz probably made himself slightly unpopular with recent comments that the EU “should not be blackmailed” into giving Turkey EU-membership. There are worries that statements of this nature could lead to a collapse of the refugee deal.

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Some seven months after the European Union and Turkey struck an agreement to turn back the tide of Syrians fleeing west, very few refugees have been sent back from Greece, and Brussels is losing its patience as overcrowded camps grow violent.

However, arrests of top staff at Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, the arrest of Kurdish mayors and Erdoğan’s proposal to bring back the death penalty may prove to be the straws that broke the camel’s back.

The EU has so far held back in providing an official opinion, but an official at the Commission’s Neighborhood and Enlargement Directorate-General told euractiv.de that the death penalty reintroduction could prove to be a “KO” in terms of continued negotiations. This is a view that was shared by EU leaders during the summer. The Parliament has also clarified that any countries that implement capital punishment preclude themselves from EU accession talks.

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Croatia, the European Union’s newest member, has pledged to help its neighbour, Bosnia and Herzegovina, follow in its footsteps and join the bloc as soon as possible.

In a newspaper interview, leading CDU MEP Elmar Brok, who is close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, insisted that the Commission must take the issue of the death penalty into it assessment of Turkey’s progress. However, he stopped short of saying that this means the door would be slammed in Turkey’s face. instead, “the goal should not be full membership, but something just below membership”, rather, some sort of “privileged partnership”.

Europe is keen to use Turkey as an intermediary between itself, West Asia and the Middle East.

Turkey’s main opposition party, the CHP, will be awaiting Brussels’ reaction keenly. A spokesperson told EURACTIV that the party leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has personally protested against the arrest of Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief and has spoken out against the reintroduction of the death penalty.

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