EU stresses human rights in talks with Turkey's Erdogan

BRUSSELS, Belgium – EU Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday, May 25, stressed the importance of human rights in talks with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid tensions over Ankara's long-delayed EU accession process.

Tusk, who heads the European Council of 28 EU member state leaders, and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker met the Turkish president ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels.

"I put the question of human rights in the center of our discussions," Tusk tweeted after the talks, which began with a brief and cordial handshake for photographers.  

A spokesman for Juncker said: "The EU and Turkey must and will continue to cooperate. Major issues of common interest were discussed in detail in a good and constructive atmosphere."

At another meeting on the margins of the NATO summit, Erdogan promised French President Emmanuel Macron he would "rapidly" look into the case of jailed French photojournalist Mathias Depardon, Macron's office said.

According to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Depardon, who has been held in Turkey for over two weeks, has begun a hunger strike.

The Turkish authorities have said he was detained over "propaganda for a terror group" – a reference to outlawed Kurdish militants.

Turkey 'won't beg'

Ahead of his trip to Brussels, Erdogan said it was up to Brussels to decide whether it wants Turkey as a member of the bloc.

Speaking to reporters before leaving for Brussels, Erdogan said Turkey would not behave like a "beggar" to gain membership.

Speeding up the membership process was a key condition set by Turkey in a landmark agreement with the EU in March 2016 to reduce migrant flows into Europe from war-torn Syria.

But relations between the bloc and Ankara soured after a failed coup attempt in July, and worsened further during the campaign for the April referendum on strengthening Erdogan's powers. 

In the run-up to the referendum – which he narrowly won – Erdogan had mooted reimposing the death penalty in a move that would automatically end Turkey's EU bid.

Earlier this month, Erdogan told Brussels it had no other option than to open new "chapters", or policy areas, in Turkey's long-stalled accession talks which began in 2005. 

Most EU states – led by Germany – officially oppose freezing the accession talks but Austria has repeatedly called for a halt.

This prompted Turkey to veto all NATO cooperation with neutral Austria, although the crisis was partially resolved with a deal on Tuesday. –