French President Emmanuel Macron has told his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that there is no chance of progress towards Turkey joining the European Union at present. The two presidents have disagreed on human rights, but are on the same page in the fight against terrorism.
Erdogan’s visit to France is the first since the coup attempt in July of 2016 and Turkey’s purges that followed a failed attempt by the military to topple the government.
Macron said he’d raised concerns with the Turkish leader about the fates of teachers, students, and journalists who have been targeted by the widespread crackdown, some of whom are currently imprisoned.
“Our democracies must be strong standing up to terrorism. But at the same time, our democracies must completely protect the rule of law,” Macron said at a strained joint press conference with Erdogan.
Erdogan fired back that some journalists are responsible for nurturing “terrorists” through their writing.
“Terror doesn’t form by itself. Terror and terrorists have gardeners,” the Turkish leader said. “These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They gain water from their columns on newspapers. And one day, you find, these people show up as a terrorist in front of you.”
He lashed out at a French journalist who asked about claims Turkey sent arms to Syria. The journalist had asked him about a story in Cumhuriyet newspaper from 2015 which suggested that Turkish intelligence had sent the supplies.
Erdogan responded by accusing the journalist of talking like a member of the Gulenist movement, which he blames for the 2016 coup.
“When you ask your questions, be careful on this point. And do not speak with the words of another,” he said.
“And I want you to know, you do not have someone before you who will easily swallow this,” he added.
The reporter could be heard saying: “I am speaking as a journalist.”
Macron said it was time to end the hypocrisy of pretending that there was any prospect of an advance in Turkey’s membership talks with the EU.
“As far as the relationship with the European Union is concerned, it is clear that recent developments and choices do not allow any progression of the process in which we are engaged,” he said.
Erdogan said Turkey was tired of constantly imploring to join the EU. The talks were in effect halted following the events after the coup.
EU-Turkey relations hit an additional low last year when Germany and the Netherlands barred rallies by Erdogan and ministers ahead of a Turkish referendum on extending the president’s powers — although France allowed a rally addressed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to go ahead.
But the French president also said it was important to keep a close relationship with Ankara, and that perhaps this was the moment to explore an option short of full EU membership – a partnership, as he described it, that would anchor the Turkish people in Europe.
Both men hailed co-operation in the fight against the Islamic State group.