European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said enlargement talks with Turkey should not be halted “on paper at least,” in an interview with the U.S. political magazine Politico published on Aug. 3.
“Turkey is our neighbor, we can’t simply let it slip into oblivion. I am not in favor of ending the accession talks with Turkey, which is a demand from the European Parliament,” Juncker was quoted as saying.
“But the fact is that Turkey is moving away from its self-imposed obligation to become a member of the European Union almost every minute. It’s not the European Union that joins Turkey, but Turkey joining the European Union,” he added.
Separately, speaking to German public broadcaster ARD in an interview aired on Aug. 3, Juncker touched on the European Union’s current situation with as Turkey as well as the refugee issue.
He warned that although Turkey had been taking steps moving it away from the EU, any decision taken by Brussels to unilaterally end accession talks would be a “mistake,” particularly considering the refugee issue.
Any step to suspend EU membership talks with Turkey would lead to the EU taking more responsibility concerning refugees, Juncker said.
He also addressed the German government’s recent demand that the European Commission suspend preparatory work on negotiations with Turkey on updating the customs union, with Berlin claiming that a continuation would send the “wrong signal” to Ankara.
The customs union between the EU and Turkey entered into force in 1995, but it concerns only certain categories of goods. Bilateral trade between the two sides has increased in recent years and the agreement needs to be updated, Juncker said.
The European Commission president said Brussels could make Ankara compromise on certain issues – particularly on rights issues such as the jailing of journalists – in order for an upgrade of the customs union to be agreed.
Tensions between Turkey and EU member states have increased over the past year, with the rift between Turkey and Germany deepening significantly in recent months.
Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik complained late on Aug. 2 that an update of the customs union agreement was being used as “leverage” against Turkey, saying this was against both Ankara’s interests and the interests of the EU.
“When we look at it structurally, the customs union issue is not just a unilateral demand from Turkey,” he told state-run broadcaster TRT.__Hurriyet