German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that while she would support an agreement to reopen talks with Turkey about joining the European Union, human rights and democratic values are “non-negotiable” elements for accession into the Union and European leaders cannot “pretend that nothing had happened” in light of violent crackdowns in anti-government protests across Turkey.
Reacting on an EU decision to postpone a new round of membership talks for at least four months, Merkel told the German parliament this week that Turkey’s membership in the European Union is conditional on respect for human rights and political reform in Ankara.
The EU had planned earlier this week to revive Turkey’s membership negotiations by opening a new chapter in talks. But Germany, backed by Austria and the Netherlands, blocked the plan, saying it would send the wrong signal shortly after brutal police action against protestors in several Turkish cities.
"This outcome makes it clear that Turkey is an important partner but that our European values of the freedom to protest, freedom of opinion, the rule of law and religious freedom, are always valid and are not negotiable," said Merkel.
The decision, discussed in advance with Turkey, drew a mild response from Ankara and avoided a crisis in diplomatic relations.
Last week, Merkel said she was “appalled, like many others” by Turkey's handling of three weeks of unrest that began over a redevelopment project in an Istanbul park but quickly evolved into a broad show of anger against what critics call growing authoritarianism from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
"I would like to see those who have criticism, who have a different opinion and a different idea of society, having some space in a Turkey that moves into the 21st century," Merkel told German broadcaster RTL.
Turkey began EU accession talks in 2005 but so far has agreed with the EU only one of 35 chapters needed to gain entry into the EU club.
Negotiations now are expected to kick off again in mid-October and analysts say it will be critical for the EU to swiftly start talks on policy areas such as judiciary and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security.
Any further delays would raise fresh doubts about whether the predominantly Muslim country of 76 million people will ever be admitted to the European club.