EU Says Death Penalty Is Red Line For Turkey’s Membership Bid

Turkey’s insistence on reinstating death penalty would likely put the country on a diplomatic collision course with the European Union, as head of its executive branch has warned Ankara of dire consequences.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Sunday that death penalty constitutes a ‘red line’ for Turkey’s EU membership bid.

Speaking to Germany’s Bild daily on Sunday, Juncker said if the death penalty is reintroduced in Turkey, it would lead to the end of negotiations. He called that step a ‘red line’ for the EU.

His warning follows a pledge by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to bring back the capital punishment if people accept a controversial constitutional reform that vastly widens his powers in a popular vote on April 16.

Mr. Erdogan said Yes vote means a green light to the restoration of the death penalty, a demand voiced by people in the aftermath of a failed coup to punish coup plotters. On Saturday, speaking at a campaign rally in the western province of Canakkale, he said he would reinstate the capital punishment without hesitation, shrugging off any criticism.

But it would drive a further wedge between Turkey and the EU, which warns of a potential breakdown in decades-old negotiations.

What Europe thinks or reacts, however, is a matter that hardly concerns Mr. Erdogan who publicly displays his detest for the liberal umbrage voiced by the West over gross human rights violations and post-coup crackdown in Turkey.

“What Hans and George say is not important for me,” the Turkish president said in a blunt rebuke to international criticism over the issue of capital punishment.

Turkey’s relations with the EU has suffered setbacks since a coup attempt last summer, locked in a simmering dispute that risks jeopardizing a fragile migrant deal designed to curb migrant flow from Turkey to the continent. The current state of relationship portends a bleak future.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel put it bluntly, portraying a dim prospect for Turkey’s membership of the EU anytime soon.

“Today Turkey is definitely further away from becoming a member of the European Union than ever before,” he told Der Spiegel on Sunday, reflecting a growing skepticism among EU diplomats over Turkey’s access to the union.

Still, the EU officials are not willing to scupper the accession talks or do not want to be seen the side that pulls back from the stalled process.

“It makes no sense to try to calm (Erdogan’s) nerves by stopping negotiations that are not even taking place,” Mr. Juncker said, voicing objection to calls for halting the entire process with Turkey.

Europen countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland found themselves at the heart of a dispute with Turkey over the Turkish referendum. When these countries refused to allow Turkish ministers to hold rallies to woo Turkish voters in Europe for the proposed constitutional changes back in Turkey, Ankara furiously reacted to bans, setting the stage for diplomatic tug-of-war.

It was Turkey’s Nazi accusations against Germany and the Netherlands that pushed the spat into a boiling point, sparking a sharp backlash from European capitals, especially from Amsterdam as the Dutch nation held elections amidst a diplomatic row with Turkey.

The Turkish president repeated his Nazi charges on Saturday, personally targeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, accusing her of employing Nazi measures. Mr. Erdogan’s displayed eagerness to escalate and prolong the diplomatic showdown to bolster his standing at home for the referendum was so palpable that it forced European leaders to revisit their discourse and policies to avoid helping the Turkish president’s cause.

Last week, Mrs. Merkel said she no longer wants to trade barbs with the Turkish leaders and would not want to make any further remarks over the issue. But she previously rejected Nazi accusations, describing them as misplaced and misguided.

Mr. Gabriel suggested that Germany should avoid embroilment in a war of words with Turkey and any strong reaction in kind against the Turkish provocations. That would give Mr. Erdogan a bogeyman that he needs for his referendum campaign.

But it was neither a blank check to the Turkish politicians for holding rallies wherever they want in Germany. If they want to organize political events, they must respect German laws, stick with local rules, the foreign minister underlined.

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