EU must openly discuss Turkey sanctions, says Austria’s EU minister

Karoline Edtstalder on the MFF negotiations: "I appeal to the EU Parliament to accept this huge budget. [BKA]

At the next European summit, Austria wants to speak openly about sanctions against Ankara, including the possibility to break off accession talks with Turkey, the country’s EU Minister Karoline Edtstadler told EURACTIV Germany.

Karoline Edtstadler has been Austria’s Federal Minister for EU and Constitution since January 2020. In the last government, she was a state secretary in the interior ministry. In the 2019 EU elections, she moved into the European Parliament until she was sworn in as minister.

A wide range of topics will be discussed at the EU summit this week: The EU budget, the internal market, Brexit and the situation in the Mediterranean are just some of them. What are Austria’s priorities?

This broad agenda shows that some decisions are now pending. It is important that we are now informed about the state of negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) {EU’s long-term budget] and on Brexit.

Furthermore, we must strengthen the European internal market and competitiveness by presenting a new industrial strategy and adjusting state aid regulations, because Europe must become independent. The resources of the Recovery Fund should be used primarily for digitalisation and climate protection.

We must also clarify how we as the EU will continue to deal with China and Turkey. Austria advocates discussing all options and breaking off the accession talks with Turkey.

On the positive side, the rule of law proceedings against Poland and Hungary are back on the agenda for tomorrow’s General Affairs Council. The German Presidency plans to hold a hearing with the two countries in November and December.

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How can these consultations help make Article 7 procedures more effective?

As Hungary’s neighbour, we know that these procedures are an emotional issue, but we must not make any concessions here. That is why I am strongly in favour of linking EU funds and the rule of law. But of course, all parties involved must be given the opportunity to get out of these proceedings. To find such an exit strategy, you have to listen to all positions.

In fact, the states agreed in July to link EU funds to the rule of law, albeit in a weakened form. Is Austria nevertheless satisfied with this?

I am glad that conditionality is anchored. It could have been stronger, but the important thing is that it is inside. Now it’s a question of whether the European Parliament approves the budget.

The European Parliament is linking its approval to a stricter rule of law mechanism. Do you think it will succeed with this?

This is a point of discussion. There have now been four trilateral meetings, in which the Council and the Commission demand concrete proposals from Parliament. It is important to hear the Parliament’s position and there may be smaller movements.

However, it has been signalled that they do not want to undo the budget again and thus jeopardise the agreement. EU leaders negotiated for five days and four nights in July to reach this result. After that, it is a good tradition to exchange views in negotiation rounds. I appeal to Parliament to approve this huge budget.

Erdogan in search of EU ‘allies’ to block sanctions

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held a series of contacts with EU leaders in recent days, aiming to find allies who would block potential sanctions against Turkey at the 24-25 September EU summit over its illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

One point of contention during these budget negotiations in July was the EU’s own resources. There is a precise timetable for the plastics tax, while only vague approval has been given for the digital tax and CO2 tax, which is to come in 2022. Wasn’t that a bit optimistic?

In politics, optimism and drive are needed. We will do everything we can to ensure that this comes about.

So Austria is in favour of these taxes?

Austria is doing everything it can to contribute to solutions that secure our future cooperation.

Turkey: Can Ankara’s actions in the Mediterranean remain unpunished?

Of course, it is not acceptable for a neighbouring state to break international law and raise warships. It is the unanimous opinion of all member states to rely on de-escalation in this case. But it will be necessary to discuss all possibilities, including sanctions.

Also, we have been in favour of breaking off the accession talks since 2016, because Turkey was already distancing itself from European values back then.

High Representative Josep Borrell said at the end of August that sanctions were in the works if there was no progress in dealing with Turkey. So there has not been any?

It is necessary to openly discuss the whole range of reactions.

Empires are back, Borrell tells EU lawmakers before crucial EU summit

The EU has reached a critical junction in its relations with Turkey, its chief diplomat, Josep Borrel, said on Tuesday (15 September), urging Ankara to back down from conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean and uphold basic human rights in the country.

Brexit also belongs to the wide range of topics for the special summit. The UK is now threatening not to adhere to the divorce agreement of spring. Did that surprise you?

In fact, I expected Britain to abide by international law. Of course we want an agreement, but we only have six weeks to settle future relations. It is a tense situation.

We are counting on the British to recognise the gravity of the situation. The EU will not be brought to its knees by blackmail.

This Wednesday (23 September), the Commission will also present its plans for a common European asylum system. What are your expectations?

It is time for a pan-European system. From the Austrian point of view, three components must be included: external border protection, cooperation with third countries and flexible solidarity.

“Flexible solidarity” means: No mandatory quota for the admission of refugees?

Exactly, we are against forced admissions. That has always been our red line, which we defend with all our strength.

Since 2015, Austria has taken in the second most refugees of all EU countries. One thing is clear: every country must make a contribution. Either by accepting people, sending officials to support the asylum authorities or by helping on the spot. In doing so, what has been achieved so far must always be taken into account. In the case of Austria, therefore, this cannot mean accepting more refugees.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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