Turkey does not need to join the European Union “at all costs” and can become part of a security bloc dominated by China, Russia and Central Asian nations. So said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on November 20.
“Turkey must feel at ease. It mustn’t say ‘for me it’s the European Union at all costs’. That’s my view,” Erdogan was quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper as telling reporters on his plane on the way back from a visit to Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
“Why shouldn’t Turkey be in the Shanghai Five? I said this to [Russian President] Mr Putin, to [Kazakh President] Nazarbayev, to those who are in the Shanghai Five now,” he said. “I hope that if there is a positive development there, I think if Turkey were to join the Shanghai Five, it will enable it to act with much greater ease.”
As reported by the Reuters news agency, Nato member Turkey’s prospects of joining the EU look more remote than ever after 11 years of negotiations. European leaders have been critical of its record on democratic freedoms, while Ankara has grown increasingly exasperated by what it sees as Western condescension.
As for China, Russia and four Central Asian nations (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), these countries formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2001 as a regional security bloc to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighbouring Afghanistan.
Turkish membership of the SCO, which had initially not included Uzbekistan and been known as the Shanghai Five, would be likely to alarm Western allies and fellow Nato members.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan speak Turkic languages, and Ankara signed up in 2013 as a “dialogue partner” saying it shared “the same destiny” as members of the bloc.
Mongolia, India, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are SCO observers, while Belarus, like Turkey, is a dialogue partner.
Dialogue partners are entitled to take part in ministerial-level and some other meetings of the SCO, but do not have voting rights.
According to Reuters, Erdogan recently urged Turks to be patient until the end of the year over relations with Europe and said a referendum could be held on EU membership in 2017.
While the EU needs Ankara’s continued help to curb a huge flow of migrants, especially from Syria, it is alarmed by Turkey’s crackdown on opponents since a failed coup attempt in July.
In a separate report, Turkey’s Daily Sabah noted that Erdogan blamed the EU for dragging its feet on accession. Turkey’s first application to become a member was submitted to the European Economic Community (the predecessor of today’s European Union) in 1963.
“The EU has been procrastinating for 53 years,” Erdogan was quoted as saying. “Can anyone accept such behaviour? When I first became the prime minister , the EU invited us to the leaders’ summit, and then they stopped. Why? Because we spoke openly. Ever since Sarkozy became the president [2007-2012], several membership negotiation chapters were opened but none were closed. If you are not going to conclude them, why open them in the first place?”
Erdogan also criticised the EU for its reluctance to lift visa restrictions for Turkish citizens. “People from Latin American countries do not need visas, but Turks do,” he said, adding that the migrant deal that entailed a readmission agreement and visa liberalisation would be rescinded if all clauses of the deal were not applied.
“It is impossible to comprehend them,” Erdogan was quoted as saying when asked if there is anything encouraging from Europe. He also questioned whether European leaders ever really considered Turkey a future member.
“From time to time, we see insults directed at myself, claims that there was no freedom of expression in Turkey. Meanwhile, Terrorists prance around in French, German and Belgian streets. This is what they understand of freedom,” Erdogan added.
According to Daily Sabah, Erdogan also spoke about the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), whose leader, Fethullah Gülen, has been accused of being the mastermind of July’s attempted coup.
The report quoted Erdogan as criticising FETÖ’s broad prep school network for university admissions need to be shut them down.
Meanwhile, hundreds of officials linked to FETÖ face charges of cheating in official recruitment tests and university admissions examinations. Erdoğan also turned down criticism that there were too many people being dismissed, reported the Daily Sabah.
In related news, Turkish officers who were formerly appointed to Nato posts are currently seeking asylum in Western countries. “No Nato country can grant such people recognised as terrorists by an ally asylum,” said Erdogan. “We want them to be extradited. How can a Nato ally grant asylum to traitors, coup plotters and terrorists.”
“We asked Greece to extradite the fugitives who fled there. [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras said it would be done within 15 to 20 days,” said Erdogan. “Unfortunately, it has been much longer than 20 days since then and we are still waiting. If we had done the same, they would have caused all kinds of trouble.”