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29th Mar 2020

New Year message: 'Geriatric' EU needs 'vigorous' Turkey

  • Erdogan (l) with EU commission head Barroso: the unusually forceful language is a measure of Turkish frustration with the EU accession process (Photo: European Commission)

Turkish leader Recep Tayip Erodgan has lambasted the EU as a spent force on the international stage in an angry statement aimed at unlocking accession talks.

Writing in an op-ed in the US magazine Newsweek on Monday (17 January) the Muslim leader said: "European labour markets and social-security systems are comatose. European economies are stagnant. European societies are near geriatric. Can Europe retain power and credibility in the new world order without addressing these issues?"

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He put forward Turkish enlargement as an antidote to the EU's problems.

"Turkey has been putting its imprint on the global stage with its impressive economic development and political stability. The Turkish economy is Europe's fastest-growing sizeable economy and will continue to be so in 2011," he said. "Turkey is bursting with the vigour that the EU so badly needs."

The Newsweek piece noted Turkey's ascendancy as a "soft power" in the western Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus - the EU's most conflict-prone neighbourhood regions.

But Mr Erdogan rebuffed EU, Israeli and US concerns that his Islamist AKP party has a dark agenda to form a new league with fellow Muslim authorities in Iran and Syria in what one member of the Israeli parliament recently described to EUobserver as an "axis of evil."

"This is not a romantic neo-Ottomanism: It is realpolitik based on a new vision of the global order," the Turkish leader said.

Commenting on the state of play in EU accession talks, which ground to a halt under the Belgian EU presidency last year in part due to Cypriot opposition to Turkey's occupation of the island's north, he said: "This is turning into the sort of byzantine political intrigue that no candidate country has experienced previously."

"Turkey-EU relations are fast approaching a turning point," he added. "We are no more a country that would wait at the EU's door like a docile supplicant."

Ankara believes that the Cypriot problem is being exploited for strategic reasons by anti-Turkish-accession governments in Germany and France.

But two US cables published by WikiLeaks on Monday give an insight into EU fears at the popular level of what Turkish enlargement could mean.

A cable from the US embassy in the Hague dated September 2004, in the run-up to the formal launch of EU-Turkey accession negotiations in 2005, voiced worries by mainstream Dutch parties that anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders will easily "arouse difficult-to-manage populist sentiments based on deeply held fears and prejudices."

The mainstream Dutch parties themselves expressed "central worries, such as how the EU

will share structural, agricultural and solidarity benefits with Turkey, assuming these programs will look the same then as they do now."

The second cable, from October 2004, noted that Mr Wilders "continues to attract followers from those worried about inflows of Turkish workers."

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