ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said his country has not yet given up on its ambition to join the European Union but has “many other alternatives” if the stalled process goes nowhere.
“We have not yet closed the European Union book right now,” Erdogan told an international conference in Istanbul. “But nobody should forget that Turkey always has many other alternatives.”
Last week the European Parliament backed a freeze in Turkey’s membership talks, angering Erdogan who threatened to retaliate by rupturing a migrant deal curbing the flow of refugees to Europe.
The deal has substantially helped reduce the wave of migrants since it was signed in March.
Erdogan said the non-binding vote at the European Parliament “upset” Turkey, adding it did not currently have “positive” feelings on the accession talks.
If the EU path is blocked, Erdogan said, “we’ll continue our road by evaluating one of those alternatives,” without naming them.
“I don’t find it right to say it here but we are of course continuing our talks with those alternatives.”
Earlier this month, Erdogan again floated the idea of joining Russia and China in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The SCO is a loose security and economic bloc. Other members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
But Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a televised interview last week that the SCO was not an alternative to Ankara’s EU accession talks.
‘Waiting at the door’
Turkey formally applied to become an EU member in 1987 and accession talks only began in 2005, even though Ankara’s aspirations to become part of the bloc dates back to the 1960s.
“There is an EU that has kept Turkey waiting at its door for 53 years,” Erdogan said.
“I say it, you (the EU) are not the only fine Indian fabric around!” he said, using a traditional Turkish idiom equivalent to the English “there are many more fish in the sea.”
“You applied a similar kind of pressure on many countries in the world. What happened? You destroyed them? With God’s help, you cannot destroy Turkey.”
Tensions in Turkish-EU relations have built up since the failed July 15 coup attempt that aimed to oust Erdogan.
Authorities have responded to the failed putsch by arresting or dismissing tens of thousands of people from state institutions to cleanse the “virus” of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara blames for the coup but he denies the allegations.
Opponents have argued the purge has gone beyond coup suspects and is being used by the government to silence dissent, with Europe urging Turkey to comply with its rights obligations.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said in an interview that “the values on which the union is built are being trampled on a daily basis, but I hope that Turkey will become again the partner in which I used to have confidence.”
“The situation is worrying,” he said, while refusing to back a freeze in the accession negotiations.
Visiting Brussels, Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik described the European Parliament vote as the “most unjust resolution in history” and urged solidarity instead.
“If there were objective, fair negotiations… then there is no reason why Turkey would not be a full member state today,” Celik said.