First Published: 2017-09-13

Juncker says Turkey taking ‘giant strides’ away from EU
European Commission president rules out Turkey joining bloc in ‘foreseeable future’, unlike Western Balkans countries.
Middle East Online

Juncker tells Ankara: "Journalists belong in newsrooms not in prisons".

BRUSSELS - The president of the European Commission said on Wednesday he saw no prospect of Turkey joining the EU in "the foreseeable future" but he had a more optimistic message for six Western Balkan nations also seeking membership.

The European Union has become increasingly critical of Turkey's decades-long membership drive after President Tayyip Erdogan launched a major crackdown on critics - including journalists and academics - after a failed 2016 coup.

"Turkey has been taking giant strides away from the European Union for some time," Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the executive Commission, said in his annual keynote speech to the European Parliament on the state of the bloc.

"Accession candidates must give the rule of law, justice and fundamental rights utmost priority. This rules out EU membership for Turkey for the foreseeable future." Juncker referred to a war of words between Berlin and Ankara, in which Erdogan accused Berlin of "Nazi-like" tactics, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel to call for an end to Turkey's membership talks, despite it being a crucial NATO ally.

"Journalists belong in newsrooms not in prisons. They belong where freedom of expression reigns," Juncker said. "Stop insulting our member states by comparing their leaders to fascists and Nazis." Formally ending Turkey's accession negotiations would require unanimity among EU states, which is lacking, though majority backing is enough to suspend them.

EU leaders will discuss Turkey at a summit in Brussels in October, though any formal decision may not come before next spring.

- WESTERN BALKAN PERSPECTIVE -

Juncker put a final stamp on the EU's recently-revived engagement in the Balkans, where Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo all want to join the EU one day.

"If we want more stability in our neighbourhood, then we must maintain a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans," Juncker said.

The region on the EU's south-eastern edge, still scarred by the wars fought along political, ethnic and religious lines in the 1990s, is important for the bloc for issues from controlling immigration to countering security threats.

Earlier this year, the EU accused Russia of seeking to destabilise the Western Balkans - which Moscow denied - and its concerns have led to a renewed engagement in the region.

With Britain now scheduled to exit the EU in 2019, Juncker said he saw no new enlargement of the bloc before 2020.

"But thereafter the European Union will be greater than 27 in number," he added.

EU officials say Serbia, Albania and Macedonia could be closest to joining, possibly allowing for an EU of 30 states by around 2025, though they avoid setting any firm deadlines.

Juncker's comments came in a speech in which he urged the EU to "catch the wind" in its sails after years of battling crises from the euro zone to migration to Brexit.

 

Iraq Kurds start voting in historic independence referendum

US-led strikes killed 84 civilians near Syria's Raqa

Iran shuts border with Iraqi Kurdistan

Yemen's Hadi says military solution 'most likely'

The Sahara Forest Project, Jordan’s innovative water scheme

Turkey to launch intervention into Syria — and maybe into Iraq

Egyptian ‘world’s heaviest woman’ dies in Abu Dhabi

Palestinian unity government remains unlikely

Emirati man fights his employer to serve in country’s army

Palestinian PM to visit Gaza next week

Saudi advisory body to tackle female driving ban

Turkey denies closing Iraqi border in response to Kurdish vote

US air strikes kill 17 Islamic State militants in Libya

The high cost of Syria’s destruction

Palestinian negotiator awaits lung transplant in US

Kurds ready for contentious vote in Iraq

A Kurdish state: Reality or utopia?

Saudi intercepts missile fired from Yemen

Saudi Arabia marks national day with fireworks, concerts

Iran defies US, tests missile

Turkey warns of 'security' steps in response to Iraqi Kurd vote

Barzani delays Kurdish independence vote announcement

Syria's war off the radar at UN assembly

For many Iraqis, tradition trumps police

Darfur clashes kill 3 as Bashir urges reconciliation

Saudi cleric banned for saying women have ‘quarter’ brain

Veteran Syrian activist, daughter assassinated in Istanbul

Tunisia drops forced anal exams for homosexuality

Bomb used in Saudi-led strike on Yemen children US-made

Syria Kurds vote to cement federal push

Police charge teenager over London Underground attack

Nigerian official to meet Turkish counterpart over illegal guns

Thousands feared trapped in Raqa as IS mounts last stand

Iraqi forces achieve first step in new offensive on IS

Migrant boat sinks off Turkish Black Sea coast leaving four dead, 20 missing

Trump praises 'friend' Erdogan

Yemen leader promises UN to open entire country to aid

Rouhani vows Iran will boost missiles despite US criticism

Russia clashes with EU over Syria

UN Security Council warns against holding Iraqi Kurd vote

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

US, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover