Turkey remains an EU membership candidate, the bloc's executive stressed Thursday, after Austria called for an end to the negotiations due to Ankara's lacking democratic standards in the wake of a failed coup.
Nearly 26,000 people have been detained in Turkey since the July 15 coup attempt, while tens of thousands of civil servants have lost their jobs. Several journalists have also been arrested in a government crackdown.
Turkey has been a candidate to join the European Union since 1999, but progress has been slow. Government sources in Ankara said Thursday that EU membership remained a strategic goal.
On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern had called for a discussion on the future of the bloc's membership talks with Ankara, adding that he would raise the issue at an informal EU summit on September 16.
"We know that Turkey's democratic standards are far from sufficient to justify an accession," Kern told Austrian daily Die Presse. The negotiations with Ankara are "a diplomatic fiction," he said earlier on the ORF public broadcaster.
The spat escalated later Thursday when Turkey charged Austria with appealing to right-wing extremists by criticizing the country.
"To be honest, I find it extremely disturbing that this kind of statement bears such similarity to the statements of right-wing extremists in Europe," Turkish Europe Minister Omer Celik said, according to Turkish state agency Anadolu.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva stressed Thursday that nothing about Turkey's candidate status has changed, while noting that the country must abide by basic EU values.
"Progress in the [accession] negotiations is measured against a series of requirements, among which [are] the respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms," Andreeva said.
The EU opened a new chapter in Turkey's EU membership bid in June, as part a migration deal struck with Ankara. Sixteen out of 35 chapters - areas in which Turkey must fall in line with EU standards - have now been opened.
"At the moment there are no further negotiation chapters under discussion," Andreeva noted Thursday.