In what came as clear opposition to the prospect of giving up Turkey's aspirations to become a full member of the European Union, and joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) instead, President Abdullah Gül has said membership in the latter cannot be an alternative to the EU.
“We are engaged in negotiations for full membership in the EU. However, it is a fact that the negotiations are not at a desired level due to some prejudice [of EU member countries toward Turkey]. The prime minister expressed his resentment [due to the prejudice]. The SCO is not an alternative to the EU,” the president said on Monday during a press conference he called with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic. "Turkey wants to successfully conclude the accession talks with the EU," he said, adding that EU nations may then hold referenda on whether Turkey should become a member.
The SCO is a mutual-security organization that was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The other countries, with the exception of Uzbekistan, had been members of the Shanghai Five, founded in 1996; after the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, the members renamed the organization.
Membership in the SCO was brought to the agenda in late January by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he said Turkey is seriously considering seeking membership in the organization as Turkey's future in the EU looks increasingly dim.
“When things go wrong in such a way, you, as the prime minister of a country of 75 million, end up looking for other options. That's why I have recently said to Mr. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin: ‘Take us into the Shanghai Five. Take us and we say goodbye to the EU.' What's the point of stalling?” Erdoğan said. The prime minister added that if Turkey gets into the SCO, then it will say “goodbye” to the EU. “The SCO is better -- much more powerful. Pakistan wants in. India wants in as well. If the SCO wants us, all of us will become members of this organization.”
According to Gül, however, who spoke for the first time about Turkey's aspirations in the 27-nation bloc after the prime minister's remarks, Turkey is decisive in completing its EU membership process with “success.” “Turkey wants to adopt and implement EU criteria,” he added.
Turkey has made quite a number of democratic changes to its legal and bureaucratic structure in recent years. Most Turkish people say the EU stands as a reference point for more democratic steps to be taken in the future.
The Serbian president also spoke about Turkey's journey to membership in the EU. He said it is not solely up to Serbia to decide whether to accept Turkey as a member country. However, he said, Serbia would always welcome Turkish investors and entrepreneurs. “I would like the friendship and brotherly relations between our countries [Turkey and Serbia] to carry on,” Nikolic added.
Also on Monday, Erdoğan spoke about his earlier SCO remarks and said he cannot understand why some people were disturbed by his remarks. “Do you think Shanghai Five is an alternative to the EU? Shanghai Five is a separate organization and the EU is a separate organization. Why are they disturbed [by my remarks]? There is no reason to be. EU member countries maintain their commercial relations with them [countries that are members of the Shanghai Five],” he stated.
The prime minister also said Turkey is not shifting from its objectives to join the EU, but it was "saddened" due to the position of the union for not letting Turkey in. "The EU is making Turkey waste its time. This is not forgivable or tolerable," he said, adding Turkey would seek “alternatives” to its aspirations to adhere to the EU.
Indeed, this is not the first time Erdoğan raised the issue of membership in the SCO. Right after his visit with Putin back in July, Russian and Turkish media reported on this same issue, despite denials by Turkish authorities who said, “Erdoğan was joking when he asked Putin if they would accept Turkey as a member of the Shanghai Five.”
In a separate occasion on Sunday, the prime minister said he is bound for a visit to Brussels soon and he thinks of raising the EU membership issue there. “I will talk with them [EU officials] clearly and openly. I will tell them either do this [accept Turkey to the union] or tell us that they will not accept us. If they are expecting us to declare that we have given up plans to become a member to the EU, then we may consider doing so, as well,” he stated.
Erdoğan also complained that Turkey has been made to wait in front of the entry gate of the EU for 50 years. “A country, which has spent 50 years in front of the EU's door, should need to make a decision, right? The EU has not done the same to any other country. But they are doing it to Turkey [making Turkey wait for many years,” he noted.
Turkey has been making efforts to enter the EU as a full member since 1963, when it signed a partnership agreement with the then-European Economic Community. But the EU's unwelcoming attitude has caused much frustration for Turkey.
Turkey opened accession talks with the EU in 2005, but progress has been slow since then due to the Cyprus dispute and opposition to Turkey's membership from some member countries such as France and Germany. Of the 35 chapters that must be successfully negotiated by any candidate country as a condition for membership, only 13 have been opened by Turkey, 17 have been blocked and four have not yet been opened -- only one is provisionally closed, that on science and research.
The prime minister also said the EU and SCO are not alternatives to each other. “I mean you needn't quit aspirations to join the other if you join one of them. Anyway, you may quit it, though … The countries that are members of the Shanghai Five have vast cooperation in the field of economy. That's not only that. They also have observer members. They also have dialogue partners. And Turkey is one of them,” Erdoğan added.
Turkey was accepted as a dialogue partner by the SCO at its annual summit in Beijing on June 7, 2012.