Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said today (4 February) that his country’s half-century wait to become part of the European Union was “unforgivable” and it should be admitted without delay.
Speaking in Prague on the first day of trip to central Europe, Erdoğan said Turkey had originally begun talks on integration in 1963.
The country of 74 million launched a formal EU accession bid in 2005, four decades after the first talks, but the process has stalled due to opposition notably from France and Germany, as well as unresolved differences over the division of Cyprus.
Last October, Erdoğan said the EU could lose Turkey if it did not grant it membership by 2023, the centenary of the founding of the modern Turkish state. It was the first time he had given an indication of how long Ankara could wait.
The fact that the process was still dragging on was a particular slight because millions of Turkish people already live in EU states, Erdoğan said.
“This delay for Turkey in the process is unforgivable,” Erdoğan told a news conference in the Czech capital.
“Our cooperation and solidarity with European countries will of course continue, even if they do not accept us. But our wish would be for Europe, even though they have not accepted us, to realise that 5 million citizens of Turkey live in the EU … We say: ‘Don’t delay. Let’s finish it’.”
The Turkish prime minister also referred to what he presented as misinterpretations of his statements about Turkey joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) [see background].
Erdoğan raised the issue on 25 January of Turkey’s possible membership in the SCO, considering it according to the press to an alternative to the EU.
“I said to Russian President Vladimir Putin, “You tease us, saying “What [is Turkey] doing in the EU?” Now I tease you: include us in the Shanghai Five, and we will forget about the EU,’” Erdoğan said.
Criticising some columnists’ assessments of the issue, the prime minister stressed that the SCO was established as a security organisation and was continuing to cooperate on border security. “The organisation continues economic cooperation,” he said, adding that Turkey is a dialogue partner to the SCO.
Peter Stano, spokesman on enlargement for the European Commission, said the Commission would not quote on reports about what a prime minister has been quoted as saying.
“The quote has evolved since last Monday when it first appeared,” Stano said. “I can just restate that we ate on the stage of accession negotiations with Turkey.”
At the end of last year, Ankara accused the EU of “bigoted attitudes” in a report on its application process. Turkey has closed only one of the 35 policy “chapters” that must be agreed with candidates.
>> Read: Turkey accuses EU of bigotry
France, Cyprus and the bloc’s executive Commission have blocked all but 13 of those remaining, and Brussels has halted talks because it says Turkey does not meet EU standards on human rights or freedom of speech or religion.
In December, Germany’s foreign minister said the standstill was unsatisfactory and called for fresh impetus.
French President François Hollande has stopped short of endorsing Turkey’s EU candidacy but has said it should be judged on political and economic criteria – a contrast to his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy’s position that Turkey did not form part of Europe.