Turkey withdrawing from EU accession talks with 'giant steps', says Juncker

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker gesturing as he speaks during a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on March 15, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday (Aug 29) said Turkey was fully to blame for the breakdown of its EU accession talks and warned that Ankara was fast withdrawing from Europe.

"Turkey is withdrawing from Europe by giant steps," Mr Juncker told an annual conference of EU ambassadors in Brussels, saying it was up to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to officially call an end Turkey's efforts to join the EU.

Mr Juncker said he suspected that Mr Erdogan was hoping that Europe would be the one to break off the talks "in order to blame the European Union" for their failure.

But the bloc must avoid "falling into the trap" as the "responsibility is entirely on the Turkish side", he said.

"The question is to know if we must put an end to the negotiations - which is a purely theoretical question as there are no negotiations."

Relations with Turkey, and especially between Berlin and Ankara, have hit rock bottom in recent months, stoking calls for Ankara's EU accession talks to be suspended.

Turkey began formal membership talks in 2005 after years of foot-dragging by some EU member states such as France, who were wary of admitting such a large Muslim country.

But progress has been slow and the negotiations came to a virtual halt last year after Mr Erdogan began a massive crackdown following an attempted coup in July, sending ties plunging to a new low.

Immediately after the coup, Turkey imposed a state of emergency under which more than 50,000 people have been arrested and almost three times that number have lost their jobs, including teachers, judges, soldiers and police officers.

In December, EU member states agreed that no new accession chapters would be opened until Ankara reversed course.

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