The vote is not binding, but it aims to ratchet up the pressure on Erdogan, whose leadership has taken an even more authoritarian turn since a failed coup in July.
More than 100,000 public workers, including police officers, teachers, soldiers and others, have been fired for what Turkish authorities have said are connections to the coup or to terrorists. Hundreds of organizations have been forced to close, including many news outlets.
The vote, in Strasbourg, France, also raised the stakes for EU governments that are loath to cut off the talks with Turkey. So far, only Austria has publicly advocated suspending the talks.
Ending the negotiations even temporarily would further jeopardize a fragile deal reached with Turkey in March that has dramatically stemmed the flow of migrants to Greece from Turkey.
The influx had threatened to overwhelm some European governments, and it bolstered the fortunes of populist political movements. Many European governments are concerned that the migratory flow could resume unchecked if relations with Turkey sour further.
Erdogan’s government has suggested that it may pull out of the membership process altogether if there is no progress by the end of the year. This week, he said a vote to curtail the talks would mean the European Parliament was siding with terrorists.
On Thursday, a majority of lawmakers put those concerns aside. There were 479 votes in favor of the resolution to suspend the negotiations with Turkey, 37 against and 107 abstentions.
Ahead of the ballot, the leaders of the main political groups at the Parliament said the European Union had to stand by its humanitarian values and ensure that Turkey did not reinstate the death penalty, which Erdogan has vowed to approve. A ban on capital punishment is a condition of EU membership.
Some of the lawmakers said the EU should not allow itself to be held hostage by Turkey over migration and should instead find ways to share the burden of looking after the influx. “The Turkey deal is an instrument we have given to Erdogan against us,” Ska Keller, a German lawmaker, told the Parliament this week.
A formal binding procedure to suspend the Turkish accession talks has not been invoked by the vote.
For that to happen, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, or one-third of EU member states would first need to make a formal proposal to do so, and a majority of the member states would then have to vote in favor of the measure for it to pass. Turkey would also be granted the opportunity to be heard, according to rules established in 2005.
Turkey first applied for membership in 1987, and formal negotiations began 11 years ago. But talks soon bogged down amid resistance from France and Germany, as well as vehement opposition from Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union but has been divided since Turkey invaded the north of the island in 1974.
The latest round of talks on Turkey’s joining the European Union has been underway for nine months.
Facing enormous pressure from migration, which had reached such levels that it was threatening to tear the bloc apart, the 28 member states agreed in March to speed up the discussions as one of several inducements to Turkey to quell the flow.
That deal also provided for the union to pay Turkey 3 billion euros, or about $3.2 billion, for refugee assistance in 2016 and 2017, with a further 3 billion euros in 2018.
In exchange, Turkey agreed to help stop the passage of refugees across its border and to take back migrants rejected for asylum in Europe. Turkey hosts an estimated 2.7 million refugees or other migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and other countries.
The agreement has been broadly successful in reducing the flow into Europe. The number of migrants crossing into Greece was at about 100 or fewer a day in the last few weeks, compared with 2,000 a day last year. So far, Europe has disbursed 677 million euros of the promised funds, badly needed at a time of economic hardship in Turkey.
The deal also tied returns of migrants to progress on visa-free travel to Europe for Turks, as well as the resettlement of registered refugees. Turkey still has seven of 72 benchmarks to fulfill for its citizens to qualify for visa-free treatment, according to a recent report by the European Commission. Those conditions include modifying its anti-terror legislation, but that seems unlikely given the even harsher tactics employed since the failed coup.