Erdoğan: Turkey could hold referendum on EU application

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has grown frustrated at his country’s stalled progress towards membership of the European Union, and could put the accession process to a public vote, he told a forum hosted by the Turkish state international broadcaster TRT World on Thursday.

The Turkish president also addressed the issue of Syria at the forum, indicating that Turkish military presence in the country could be long-term, and used the occasion to criticise the United Nations.

“Last time I was in the United States I told some leaders from the EU, ‘look, you’re tiring us out and vice versa. If you want to take us, then take us, otherwise just tell us and we can part ways,” said Erdoğan.

“However powerful the EU is, we are just as strong. He have much to offer the EU, and they have much to offer us. But if things keep proceeding according to this logic, then it will fall to us – and this will make good headlines for tomorrow – to take the matter to 81 million people,” he continued, citing the figures for Turkey’s population.

Turkey was first officially recognised as a candidate for full EU membership in 1999. Negotiations began in 2005, but have since stalled, with the abolition of its Ministry for EU Affairs under the latest Turkish government a sign of the lack of progress.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has complained that countries such as Croatia which applied at the same time or later than Turkey have gained accession faster.

However, the European Union has expressed serious concerns at the AKP’s increasingly authoritarian style of government. Members of the European Parliament cited rule of law and human rights concerns when they voted to suspend accession negotiations in 2016.

This week the European Parliament voted against handing Turkey 70 million euros in pre-accession funding, again citing concerns over the country’s recent rule of law and human rights record.

The Turkish president went on to discuss Syria, saying Turkey would maintain a presence in the country until elections were held.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last held presidential elections in Syria in 2014, winning with over 88 per cent of the vote. However, few consider the elections to have been free or fair, and Erdoğan in his comments gave no indication of whether he would consider a repeat of these elections as legitimate.

Erdoğan’s ire also extended to the United Nations at the forum, reiterating his criticism of the UN Security Council, the five permanent members of which, he has frequently complained, do not adequately represent the diverse states of the world.

“(The UN Security Council) has five permanent members. But that’s a condition of World War Two. We don’t live under the same conditions any more,” said Erdoğan.

“It’s time for a change. A UN Security Council that represents all seven continents, that’s what we need to achieve,” he said.