Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Parliament yesterday that his country no longer needs EU membership but would not unilaterally abandon the stalled talks to join the bloc.
“We will not be the side which gives up. To tell the truth, we don’t need EU membership anymore,” Erdogan said.
The premier has previously said that joining the EU is not Ankara’s only option, and that Turkey is considering joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Erdogan has always stressed that “the European Union rejects Turkey’s membership because it is a Muslim country”.
Ankara was declared eligible to start accession talks with the EU, after strong support from Britain, Italy and Sweden, in 1997. However formal negotiations only begin in 2005 only to stall in 2010 over issues including the divided island of Cyprus.
Talks were revived in March 2016 after the EU and Turkey sign a deal under which refugees arriving in Greece are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or their claim is rejected.
The deal says that for every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey, one Syrian already in Turkey will be resettled in the EU.
However tensions between Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands intensify after an attempted coup in Ankara in July 2016 saw Turkey crackdown on opposition groups, while some European countries refused to allow political rallies in their countries in support of an upcoming Turkish referendum which awarded the Turkish premier greater powers.
Talks were officially frozen in April after the European Parliament called for a formal suspension of Turkey’s EU membership bid.