EU struggles with rift over Turkey membership
BRUSSELS - The European Union on Tuesday wrestled with a rift over Turkey's EU membership bid after Austria led calls for the accession process to be halted over Ankara's post-coup crackdown.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lashed out at EU reluctance to revive membership talks and threatened to cancel a March deal which has curbed the mass influx of refugees and migrants into the 28-nation bloc.
Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said ministers would try to close the gap during talks in Brussels on Tuesday.
"This is definitely the most problematic point," Lajcak told reporters when asked about Austria's call to freeze the membership bid.
"The positions are quite diverse. So the goal for today would be to find a common platform to arrive at a compromise," Lajcak said.
Austria's top diplomat Sebastian Kurz warned that Vienna could block the conclusions that ministers must agree unanimously on Tuesday to proceed with the accessions negotiations.
"We will try to find common ground," Kurz said.
But if that were not possible, "we will block the conclusions" as he demanded Erdogan toe the line on EU standards of human rights and democracy.
Kurz said that the Netherlands and Bulgaria share Austria's position. The European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution last month calling for a freeze in membership talks over Turkey's crackdown.
German Minister of State Michael Roth warned "we shouldn't slam the doors in this difficult phase" even though there is "a regression" in the rule of law and media freedom in Turkey.
But at the same time he said: "There has to be a clear signal of the European Union to... the citizens in Turkey who share our European values."
Turkey and the EU had agreed to speed up the long-stalled membership talks after both sides reached a deal in March to curb the flow of migrants into the European Union.
But the process has stalled after a failed coup in July by a rogue military faction was followed by a crackdown that saw mass arrests of not only officers but also journalists, activists and academics and others.
Turkey formally applied to become an EU member in 1987 and accession talks only began in 2005, even though Ankara's aspirations to become part of the bloc date back to the 1960s.