‘EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs EU’ - Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the European Union that continuing to delay Turkey’s accession process would damage the EU’s founding principles during a reform action group meeting with ministers and senior advisers on Thursday.

“The European Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU”, Erdoğan said at the meeting on May 9, the EU’s “Europe Day”, commemorating the 1950 Schuman Declaration, an important landmark for the creation of a united European community.

“Without our country, it will be impossible for the EU to ward off existential threats like Islamophobia, cultural racism, discrimination and opposition to migrants that undermine its founding principles”, the Turkish president said.

The EU project has been placed under strain by a resurgence of nationalist movements in its member states, with opposition to migrants, and particularly the wave of Muslim refugees from Syria, a common feature of the rising right wing.

Erdoğan framed Turkey’s stalled accession in this context, placing the blame on “discriminatory and exclusionary policies” he said had unfairly targeted his country.

Negotiations for full membership began in 2005, but Turkey made slow progress towards meeting the accession criteria.

In the aftermath of a coup attempt that Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government survived in July 2016 the EU halted the process, citing serious concerns about Turkey’s human rights and rule of law.

Thousands of public officials, soldiers, journalists and legal professionals were purged or arrested during a two-year state of emergency that followed the coup attempt.

The AKP said these were a necessary measure to weed out supporters of the Gülen religious movement it says orchestrated the coup attempt. However, critics have said Erdoğan’s government used the emergency powers to quash dissent and cow political opposition.

At the Thursday meeting, Erdoğan accused EU states of failing to show solidarity with his country, referring to countries that had granted asylum to soldiers accused of participating in the coup attempt or to alleged members of the Gülen organisation.

In 2018 the Greek Supreme Court has denied Ankara’s requests to extradite eight Turkish servicemen who sought refuge in Greece after the July 2016 coup attempt.

The Turkish president also noted that the state of emergency had ended in 2018, and commissions formed under the new executive presidential system had worked through a significant portion of the long backlog of appeals related to arrests and dismissals it had brought.

Erdoğan said Turkey was determined to continue seeking full membership of the EU despite opposition, and added that his government would take steps to improve its citizens' rights and freedoms "if necessary, according to what we'll call the Ankara criteria if not the Copenhagen criteria".

However, the Turkish president did not address the diverse concerns that brought members of the European Parliament to vote in favour of a recommendation to formally suspend accession negotiations last February.

That vote referred to a European Commission report that warned of “serious backsliding” in Turkey’s judiciary, freedom of expression and public administration, three of seven broad criteria for accession.

“Although Turkey has several times reiterated its commitment to accession, the corresponding implementing measures have not been taken, and since 2016 and the failed military coup, the government has taken steps in contradiction with previous engagements, especially regarding the respect of human rights”, the report said. 

Numerous ranking EU officials and MEPs including European Commission chief Johannes Hahn condemned a decision by Turkey’s Supreme Election Council this week to cancel and rerun the mayoral election in Istanbul, which had been won on March 31 by an opposition candidate.