Sunday

17th Jan 2021

Turkey to hold 'Brexit-like' vote, Erdogan says

  • Erdogan went to India and Pakistan on his first state visit after the Turkish referendum in April (Photo: Erik de Haan)

Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeated his threat to hold a referendum on breaking off EU accession talks.

He issued the threat amid a series of anti-EU jibes while visiting India and Pakistan in a show of his ambition to make Turkey a leading power in the Islamic world.

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  • Turkey's post-coup purge prompted Austria to call for an end to EU accession talks (Photo: Reuters)

“After some time, Turkey will choose the next path of a Brexit-like referendum,” he told WION, an Indian TV station, in an interview broadcast on Sunday (1 May), referring to Britain's vote, last year, to exit the EU.

Asked when the EU referendum would take place, he said: “We have not decided yet. We will discuss it in parliament, and if need be, turn to the people”.

He added: “The EU was never sincere or honest. Turkey is working [on EU accession] in vain. It's been lingering for 54 years. We fully fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria, our economy is doing much better than some EU members, we are a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but we are made to wait patiently.”

The Copenhagen criteria are a set of rules for would-be EU states that include respect for democracy and human rights.

The EU has criticised Erdogan over irregularities in a referendum in April that granted him absolutist powers.

It has also criticised him for mass arrests of independent journalists, opposition MPs, and other government critics following a failed coup.

Erdogan dismissed the criticism as being political, adding: "It’s all propaganda.”

He also accused “the West” of being “aggressive toward Muslims”, for instance, by banning Islamic headscarves and by failing to protect mosques from arson attacks.

Speaking later on Sunday at the Jamia Millia Islamia university, he said: “Please, please, please do not follow the Western media when you look at Turkey. This is propaganda against Turkey.”

He added that the EU had only paid out €750 million of a €3 billion aid pledge in return for Turkey stopping Syrian refugees from going to Greece.

He said at a business conference with Indian leader Narendra Modi also on Sunday that “xenophobia is a major problem in Europe”.

Erdogan’s trip was his first foreign visit after the constitutional referendum in Turkey on 16 April.

He urged India and Pakistan to make peace over Kashmir, a disputed territory, and called on the UN Security Council to expand its EU and US-dominated list of veto powers.

He also pledged to help India and Pakistan fight terrorism and signed three memorandums on expanding Turkey-India cultural and economic ties.

Bad cop, good cop

Erdogan’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, took a friendlier approach to the EU on Friday, however.

TV cameras showed him hugging several EU foreign ministers at an informal meeting in Malta, the current holder of the EU presidency.

He said that Austria, which wants to break off EU-Turkey accession talks, had a “wrong policy” but he said there had been a “positive atmosphere” at the talks.

Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, restated Vienna’s position in strident terms on Friday.

He said Turkey had crossed so many of the Copenhagen “red lines” that its path “cannot be membership”.

“I would like to see a clear, courageous EU stand. ‘Yes’ to contact with Turkey. ‘No’ to accession,” Kurz said.

German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel contradicted his Austrian counterpart, saying the German government was "strictly against cancelling the talks".

"In Nato, we did not even exclude Turkey even during the times of military dictatorship,” he said.

He added, in a swipe at Kurz, that some politicians were trying to “win applause at home” by attacking Turkey at EU meetings.

French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also said Turkey was too important to the EU to break off ties.

"How can we ignore Turkey? We have to fight terrorism, we want Turkey to respect the migration deal with have," he said.

“Nobody wants a break-up with Turkey."

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini echoed Gabriel and Ayrault, but said EU-Turkey accession talks were effectively on hold.

Tusk-Erdogan meeting

Speaking at an EU summit in Brussels on Saturday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said EU Council chief Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker wanted to meet Erdogan in the margins of a Nato summit on 25 May.

Erdogan already threatened a popular vote on EU accession on two occasions prior to the 16 April referendum.

He also said he would consider reinstating the death penalty - another EU "red line".

He accused Merkel and other EU leaders of behaving like Nazis when they blocked Turkish ministers from attending pre-referendum rallies with Turkish expats in Europe.

“They said a century ago that we were the ‘sick man’. Now they are the ‘sick man’. Europe is collapsing,” he said at a rally in Izmir, in western Turkey, on 9 April.

EU urges Turkey to investigate election fraud

The EU called for a transparent investigation into alleged irregularities during the referendum in Turkey, which gave sweeping powers to president Erdogan. It added that reinstating the death penalty would end the country's EU bid.

Turkey-EU relations plumb new depths

Turkey’s EU quarrel escalated on all fronts over the weekend, amid fresh “Nazi” and “terrorism” jibes. “Not all Turks are little Erdogans,” Juncker said.

Turkey's accelerated drift from Europe

Turkey's path towards EU membership seems harder than ever in the past 54 years, after Erdogan, this week, threatened to "wave" goodbye to the bloc.

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