Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated on Sunday his criticism of the EU for putting Ankara's membership bid on hold and said Ankara was looking for alternatives to the 27-nation bloc after waiting for five decades to join it.
Erdoğan, speaking to reporters in Ankara before flying to Prague for a visit, also said he was hopeful that members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which he earlier said Turkey might seek to join instead of the EU, would improve their democratic record over time.
“I ask this question concerning the EU: Doesn't a country need to make a decision after it has been kept waiting for 50 years [for membership]?” Erdoğan said, announcing that he will convey the message openly to EU leaders when he visits Brussels soon. “If you are going to do it [let Turkey join], do it, if you are not, say it openly that you are not. … If you insist that we should be the ones to say it out loud, we can consider that, too.”
“We will search for alternatives,” said Erdoğan. He also stated that Germany was in a panic after British Prime Minister David Cameron recently called for a referendum on a redefined relationship with the EU by 2018.
Erdoğan sparked a debate when he said last month that Turkey could drop its membership bid and seek to join the Russian and Chinese-led SCO instead. “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?” he said in a televised interview, referring to the six-nation organization by its previous name.
On Sunday, Erdoğan claimed that the EU and the SCO are not mutually exclusive alternatives, even though a country may well join one and quit the other if it wants to. He also said even though it was primarily established to focus on border security, the SCO has now become an organization promoting economic cooperation among its members.
And in response to criticism that Turkey's human rights record would deteriorate if it drops its EU bid, Erdoğan said: “They say there is no democracy in the Shanghai countries. Democracy did not come to the EU overnight. And don't forget [what EU nations did in] Rwanda and Algeria. Why did they deport Roma people? Does Islamophobia fit into human rights? I believe the Shanghai countries will further intensify their democratization process.”
Turkey first applied for membership in the EU predecessor European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959 and it formally opened accession talks with the EU in 2005 following a reinvigorated reform drive after Erdoğan first came to power in 2002. The membership process has been stalled since then, however, amid the unresolved Cyprus dispute and opposition from some EU countries to Turkish accession.