Guy Verhofstadt, the chief Brexit negotiator at the European Parliament, Wednesday joined a growing chorus of calls for the European Union to freeze its accession talks with Turkey.
His demand came after similar comments this week by Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party, the biggest group in the European Parliament.
Verhofstadt’s comments, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg during its monthly plenary, came amid a sharp decline in relations between the two sides in recent days, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likening the Netherlands to “a banana republic”.
Erdogan also accused countries in the West of “Islamophobia”. “I had thought that Nazism was over, but I was wrong,” Erdogan said.
Verhofstadt, who now leads the ALDE group in the assembly, said, “These comments are ironic.”
He accused Erdogan of cynicism for advocating “freedom of speech” while journalists are imprisoned in Turkey.
“He points a finger at our countries, including the Netherlands, but look at what is happening in his own country. It is good that we condemn this but let’s freeze the accession talks with Turkey now.
To negotiate with Turkey is unacceptable, said Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister.
His remarks were endorsed by Italian member Matteo Salvini who called for an end to all EU payments to Turkey and to its EU accession negotiations.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking in the same debate, also raised the Turkish attacks on the Netherlands, saying these were “totally unacceptable” and that those responsible were moving Turkey away from the EU.