Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remarks last week that Turkey should join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) instead of the EU caused confusion and a bit of a controversy in Turkey.
Although he later said that the Shanghai Five is not an alternative to EU membership, the debates over Turkey's EU bid and pursuit of other international organizations continue. Columnists argue that Turkey should maintain its EU aspirations as it certainly contributes to our democratization process, but seeking new international cooperation and new markets, which is what Erdoğan actually implied with his remarks, is also wise, they agree.
İbrahim Karagül from Yeni Şafak says Erdoğan's remarks do not indicate that Turkey is questioning its EU bid or turning its back on the West. In fact, his remarks signal Turkey's struggle in determining its global position on its path to becoming a more powerful actor in the 21st century, a century marked by change, diversity and shake-ups in world powers and wealth.
“The EU is no longer the only option for Turkey now. The region we are located in is currently being restructured and, since the beginning of the 20th century, Turkey has never been as active as it is now. Reshaping the Middle East without Turkey playing a role in it is no longer possible. The 21st century is the century of opportunities and Turkey stands out as one of the luckiest countries. This is why Turkey should not lock itself in Europe. It has to extend its hand from Europe to the Asia Pacific region. This is how Erdoğan's remarks should be interpreted,” the columnist notes.
Karagül further underlines that the SCO and the EU are not alternatives to one another. These are two separate powers and markets and they are both in Turkey's interests. Also, some EU counties have made similar efforts to strengthen relations with other countries outside of the EU as well. Today, the rules for becoming a world power have significantly changed. Thus, the prime minister's suggestion is not odd. On the contrary, we need to properly consider his remarks, the columnist suggests.
Sabah's Hasan Bülent Kahraman highlights that we need to continue with our EU bid because we need to use the EU as a benchmark or criteria to improve our democratic standards. It doesn't necessarily mean that we should become obsessed with joining the union because there are two main obstacles on Turkey's path to the union, the columnist writes. First, he believes that the EU will never allow Turkey to become a member due to its Islamic character. Secondly, Turkey today can boldly speak about why the EU needs to have Turkey, which managed to stand strong while most of the EU countries are suffering severe financial crises. But the crises won't go on forever and once the EU pulls itself together, Turkey will have less to offer to the EU, he notes.