Brussels is on the verge of suspending Turkey’s membership negotiations to join the EU over human rights violations.
MEPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing the European parliament to vote on a formal suspension next month.
If passed, this would be the first major shift in EU-Turkish relations since negotiations began in 2005.
EU governments say President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents and anti-democratic reforms have taken the country on a path away from the bloc.
Turkey’s exploration for oil in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean has also angered EU leaders.
Erdogan, whose government has launched a diplomatic charm offensive this year to improve ties, has said he will walk away from EU membership talks if there is no progress.
“This report is probably the toughest ever in its criticism towards the situation in Turkey,” said Nacho Sanchez, a centre-left Spanish EU lawmaker who led parliamentary discussions.
“It reflects all that has unfortunately happened in the country in the last two years, in particular in the fields of human rights and rule of law,” he said.
The EU and Turkey kicked off talks in 2005 following sweeping reforms to foreign investment rules and the outlawing of the death penalty by Erdogan in his early years as prime minister in 2003.
Now EU officials say Turkey no longer meets the democratic criteria to be considered a candidate, let alone a full member, for the EU.
EU lawmakers said the formal suspension of talks should take place, followed by a review, in order to consider other ways to maintain close ties with Turkey.
Last month, MEPs signed a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell calling for “tougher sanction on Turkey” over human rights violations.
It came as EU leaders agreed to suspend the threat of sanctions against the country after a diplomatic drive by Ankara.
“We choose not to be silent against the crimes committed by Erdoğan. We must not follow the failed appeasement policy of the late 1930s towards Nazi Germany, which humanity paid with such a heavy cost,” one of the letter’s signatories, Socialist MEP Costas Mavrides, told Parliament Magazine.
“We must put our European values above any national interest. We have to decide whether we are promoting values, or business,” Parliament Magazine cited another signatory to the letter, European People’s Party MEP Loucas Fourlas, as saying.
President Erdogan recently withdrew the country from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe charter requiring signatories to tackle violence against women.
Turkish state prosecutors have also begun legal proceedings to close the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition grouping the country’s parliament.
The EU is Turkey’s biggest foreign investor and trading partner.
The vote took place on Thursday with the results announced on Friday.