The head of the European Union Commission has ruled out Turkish membership of the bloc for the "foreseeable future" because of human rights concerns. In his annual State of the Union address Wednesday, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker cited human rights concerns as the reason.
Addressing other topics, Juncker struck an upbeat tone compared to his annual address last year, which came in the wake of Britain’s vote to quit the bloc.
"Europe's economy is finally bouncing back and with it our confidence… this leads me to believe the wind is back in Europe's sails," he told EU lawmakers gathered in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.. "We have now a window of opportunity but it will not stay open forever. Let us make the most of the momentum, catch the wind in our sails,”
Juncker said the European Union is aiming to complete trade deals with Mexico and South American countries, and to open trade talks with Australia and New Zealand.
But he reserved strong criticism for Ankara, highlighting the ongoing trial of dozens of Turkish journalists and opposition activists on terrorism charges.
“The rule of law, justice and fundamental values have a top priority in the negotiations and that rules out EU membership for Turkey in the foreseeable future. For some considerable time Turkey has been moving away from the European Union in leaps and bounds. Journalists belong in editorial offices, amidst the heated debate, and not in prisons.”
Amnesty International, whose Turkey chairperson is among those detained, welcomed the focus of Juncker’s speech.
“Over 150,000 people actually are facing some kind of prosecution, or loss of their position in the civil service. This situation is intolerable and in terms of human rights in Turkey, dissent is becoming an endangered species,” Amnesty’s Turkey campaigner Milena Buyum told VOA.
Istanbul residents offered mixed feelings on Europe’s rebuff Wednesday. 22-year-old Teoman Yilmaz said he understood Brussels’ position. “We cannot expect Europeans to be happy with us, especially when our own people are not happy about being here.”
Fifty five year old resident Cetin Dincer backs the crackdown led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following last year’s failed coup. "We have no need for Europe. We're a self-sufficient country, but Europe doesn't want this."
Ending Turkey’s accession negotiations will be discussed next month at a Brussels summit.
Europe’s migration crisis will also top the agenda. Juncker praised Italy for "saving the honor of Europe" by continuing to take in thousands of migrants. He pledged to address concerns of horrific conditions at migrant detention centers in Libya.
“Europe has got a collective responsibility and the Commission will work hand in hand with the United Nations to bring to an end this scandalous situation,” he told lawmakers.
As for Brexit, Juncker said Britain would come to regret leaving the bloc, adding the European Union would look at admitting new members after Britain withdraws in 2020. EU officials say Serbia, Albania and Macedonia are the most likely candidates, but no date has been set for their accession.