How is the EU going to approach Turkey now? That is what the EU Foreign Ministers are discussing today in the Maltese capital, Valletta. For Foreign Minister Gabriel, the main question is how the EU can promote democracy in Turkey.
At the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Malta, Gabriel spoke out against halting EU accession negotiations with Turkey. “Pushing Turkey towards Russia” could not be in Europe’s interest, as Gabriel made clear. Now that Turkey has decided to restructure its political system in a constitutional referendum, the EU faces the question of how to continue relations with its neighbour on the Bosphorus.
Turkey has been an EU accession candidate since 2005. Talking to his EU colleagues, Gabriel advocated seeking formats for talks which are separate from the accession process. To conduct critical dialogue with Turkey at an even more intensive level, cooperation between the EU and Turkey has to be placed on a new footing, as Gabriel underscored.
Not disappointing democrats in Turkey
Many observers are concerned by political developments in Turkey. Yet there are also strong pro‑European forces in the country. The constitutional referendum on introducing a presidential system was only won by a narrow majority. For the people in Turkey working to promote European values in their country, a suspension of the EU accession negotiations would be a devastating signal, as Gabriel pointed out. For him, isolating Turkey in terms of foreign policy would not help anyone. Instead, as the Minister stressed, it is a matter now of strengthening the democratic forces in Turkey. One way of doing this would be by easing travel restrictions for democratic activists or journalists.
More stability in the Western Balkans
In Valletta, the EU Foreign Ministers will today also talk about the EU’s global strategy. Foreign Minister Gabriel wants to extend the EU’s engagement to create more stability in the Western Balkans. Gabriel recently travelled to Albania, Serbia and Kosovo. The reforms which have been introduced deserved respect. As the Minister pointed out, the EU needs to help the countries more to avert both internal and external crises.
Gabriel described the current crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as incompatible with European expectations. “It is simply unacceptable that the previous ruling party has refused [to respect the democratic mandate] and that its supporters are storming parliament and beating legislators,” as Gabriel stated.