Tue Apr 18, 2017 7:33AM
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern (Photo by AFP)
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern (Photo by AFP)

Top Austrian officials have called on the European Union to end talks over Turkey’s decades-long efforts to join the bloc following a narrowly passed referendum granting the Turkish president unprecedented powers.

“With what happened yesterday, [Turkey’s EU] membership prospects are buried, in practical terms. We are entering a new era,” Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern stated Monday in Vienna, adding that EU aid to Turkey to help it advance towards membership was now “obsolete.”

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz also said in a separate statement that after the Turkish referendum, “we can no longer simply return to business as usual.”

“We must be honest about the relationship between the EU and Turkey,” Kurz stated in a tweet, adding, “We need to end the EU entry negotiations and instead work to establish a neighborhood agreement” with Turkey, without elaborating.

Turkey has had an association agreement with the EU since 1963 and formally applied to join the bloc on April 14, 1987.

Austria has also joined other European states in speaking out against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s vow to seek another referendum to restore the death penalty if the Turkish parliament fails to approve the move.

On Monday, Germany warned Turkey against further distancing itself from Europe by reinstating the death penalty, which was abolished by Ankara in 2004 as part of its efforts to become an EU member.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said such a move would be “synonymous with the end of the European dream” and mark the end of Turkey’s long-running talks to join the EU.

It is in Turkey’s “own interest” not to distance itself further from Europe, Gabriel said during an interview with the local Bild daily to be published Tuesday.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C), flanked by his wife Emine (rear L), addresses supporters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, April 17, 2017 following the results in a national referendum. (Photo by AFP)

“Any decision (about joining the EU) will not be on the agenda anytime soon. At any rate, joining would not work right now,” said Gabriel, adding that Turkey must decide which direction to take.

In an earlier joint statement with Gabriel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Ankara to “seek respectful dialogue with all political and social forces in the country after this tough election campaign.”

Merkel further stated that Germany “respected the right of Turks to decide on their constitution,” adding that “the close result shows the extent to which Turkish society is deeply divided.”

Supporters of ‘Yes’ wave Turkish National flags as they cheer Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his speech at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, on April 17, 2017. (Photo by AFP) 

Sunday’s constitutional referendum in Turkey saw the passage by a razor thin margin of amendments giving the president sweeping executive powers and abolishing the post of prime minister, among a series of other changes.

On Sunday night and Monday, counter-rallies were held for and against Erdogan in different Turkish cities, including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

The Turkish opposition and international observers have challenged the referendum’s results, citing voting irregularities.

‘No’ voters gesture and chant slogans during a march at the Besiktas district in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 17, 2017, following the referendum. (Photo by AFP)

At a press conference Monday, Bulent Tezcan, deputy chairperson of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said his organization would lodge an appeal with the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights for what is called breeches of voting laws.

On Tuesday, Alev Korun, an Austrian member of the Council of Europe observer mission, also told ORF radio that irregularities could have changed the outcome of the plebiscite.

“There is a suspicion that up to 2.5 million votes could have been manipulated, said the Austrian member of parliament,” he said. “This is about the fact that actually the law only allows official voting envelopes. The highest election authority decided however, as it were against the law, that envelopes without official stamp should be admitted.”

The comments came a day after the Turkish president furiously rejected domestic and international criticisms of the vote.

Returning to his presidential palace in Ankara, Erdogan triumphantly addressed thousands of supporters who gathered outside, telling foreign critics, “Know your place” and that “this country held the most democratic polls that have never been seen in any other country in the West.”

The Turkish president further announced that Ankara may hold more referendums on its EU bid as well as re-introducing the death penalty.

Relations between Turkey and the EU cooled drastically during the referendum campaign when Erdogan repeatedly accused European leaders of acting like “Nazis” by banning Turkish ministers from engaging in campaign rallies in the European countries.

Europe has been critical of the Turkish government’s crackdown on opposition members and supporters after a failed coup last July.