Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Erdogan speech indicates deep rift with EU

  • The Tupras remarks made an immediate impact on the lira (Photo: tccb.gov.tr)

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told the EU to “mind its own business” on free press, marking an ever-deeper rift in relations.

He made the comments at a speech in the Tupras oil refinery outside Istanbul on Monday (15 December) after European officials criticised his latest arrests of opposition-linked journalists.

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“They cry press freedom, but they [the arrests] have nothing to do with this … We have no concern about what the EU might say, whether the EU accepts us as members or not, we have no such concern. Please keep your wisdom to yourself”, he said.

“The EU should not intervene in acts taken by the police and judiciary against entities that jeopardise our national security. It should mind its own business”.

Erdogan described the journalists as a fifth column trying to hold back progress in Turkey, indicating that the purge will continue.

“Elements that threaten our national security, whether it’s a member of the press, or this, or that, will get the proper response”, he said.

His speech, part of which was broadcast on TV, went on to complain that Turkey has been “waiting for 50 years at the EU’s door”.

He also accused Germany of appeasing the PKK, a Kurdish militant group, and of failing to investigate killings of ethnic Turks on its territory.

Erodgan is known for his provocative rhetoric: He recently said that women are not equal to men and that Westerners secretly hate Muslims.

Council debate on Tuesday

The EU has in the past also criticised his crackdowns while continuing talks on accession and visa-free travel.

But the Tupras remarks made an immediate impact on market confidence in future ties, with the Turkish lira losing 4 percent of its value against the US dollar.

For her part, EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said she was “very surprised” by Erdogan’s comments.

She noted that Turkey had given her and her colleague, enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, a warm welcome in Ankara last week when the two sides spoke of a “new start” in the accession process.

“It was members of the government who were telling that us the EU path for Turkey was not so much about economic interests as about values and principles, starting from democracy and rule of law”, she said.

“The idea was, and I would say still is, to work in a consistent and coherent way on European accession”.

EU foreign ministers will discuss Turkey enlargement at a general affairs council in Brussels on Tuesday.

Compliance with EU norms aside, Turkey is an EU and Nato strategic ally in the fight against Islamist radicals in Iraq and Syria.

It is also an energy ally.

Gas pipelines

The EU is building a new gas pipeline to Azerbaijan via Turkey and will need Turkish co-operation if it is to build a second pipeline from Israel via Cyprus.

Both projects are designed to reduce dependence on Russia. But Turkey last month said it might host a competing Russian pipeline as well.

The EU on Monday continued to heap criticism on Erdogan despite the delicate situation.

Some members of the ruling VVD party in the Netherlands said the bloc should stop paying the €600 million a year which Turkey gets in pre-accession aid.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz, at the opening of a new session in Strasbourg, also called on the Turkish ambassador to the EU to give him an explanation.

“We are concerned that the latest developments signal a dangerous stance towards critical media”, he said.

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