The European Union should formally suspend Turkey's negotiations to join the bloc, EU lawmakers said on Wednesday in a symbolic rebuke of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who Western governments accuse of widespread abuses of human rights.
Forging a common European Parliament position on Turkey's long-stalled EU bid, lawmakers voted 370 in favour and 109 against, with 143 abstentions, for an official freeze of the membership process, which would jeopardise some EU funding. EU governments have the final say in any suspension.
"Sitting in a cell for 17 months without knowing what you are being accused of, that is reality in today's Turkey," Kati Piri, a Dutch centre-left EU lawmaker who sponsored the non-binding resolution, told the plenary in Strasbourg.
She accused Erdogan of a "witchhunt against his critics", referring to what the EU says is a crackdown on dissidents, the collapse of an independent judiciary and a turn towards authoritarianism that are incompatible with the bloc's values of democracy and freedom of speech.
Ankara dismissed the vote as meaningless. Turkish ruling AK Party spokesman Omer Celik called it "worthless, invalid and disreputable".
Turkish foreign ministry said it expected the EP to take objective decisions and to adapt a constructive stance to contribute to Turkey's EU accession process.
The parliament adopted its stance two days before EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is set to meet Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Brussels to discuss bilateral relations.
The EU process is not formally frozen but was faltering even before Erdogan's purge of suspected plotters of a failed coup attempt in 2016 and his broadsides against Europe in 2017, comparing the Dutch and German governments to Nazis.
The negotiations, launched in 2005 after decades of Turkey seeking a formal start to an EU membership bid, dovetailed with Erdogan's first economic reforms in power as prime minister from 2003.
Today, EU officials say limits on press freedoms, mass jailing and shrinking civil rights make it almost impossible at the present time for Turkey to meet EU joining criteria.
Lawmakers acknowledged that the bloc relies on Turkey as a NATO ally on Europe's southern flank, while an EU deal with Ankara has halted the influx of Syrian refugees into the bloc.
"Nobody denies the important role that Turkey plays, in particular in the migration crisis and the war in Syria. But that doesn't mean Europe can be hostage to a system that criticises everyone who thinks differently," Portuguese centre-left EU lawmaker Liliana Rodrigues said.
Two German journalists left Turkey on Sunday after authorities rejected their media accreditation, a step that drew condemnation from Germany's foreign minister and stoked diplomatic tension.