Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is “seriously tired” of waiting for the European Union to decide if it wants his country as a member.
Mr Erdogan was in Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, part of efforts to improve his government’s strained relationship with Europe.
Mr Macron confirmed that Turkey’s wait for EU membership was far from over, and suggested a partnership in the meantime. The current process “does not allow for an outcome in the coming years,” Mr Macron said during a joint news conference with Mr Erdogan, adding that stringing Turkey along was hypocritical.
Mr Erdogan made it plain that Turkey would not wait forever. “One cannot permanently implore and wait to be finally included,” he said, adding that frustration might tempt Ankara to turn its back to Europe.
Ties between Turkey and Europe worsened last year amid mass arrests and firings carried out by Mr Erdogan’s government following a July 2016 coup attempt. Relations deteriorated further after authorities in several countries prevented Turkish ministers from holding political rallies to court expatriates’ votes in a referendum to expand the president’s powers.
Mr Erdogan unleashed a series of insults at Nato allies, accusing European officials of racism, harbouring terrorists and behaving like Nazis. The Turkish president was less bombastic, but just as emphatic, today while discussing his country’s decades-long pursuit of Europe’s acceptance.
Unfortunately, we did the first steps in 1963. And it’s now been 54 years that Turkey has been waiting in the antechamber of the EU,” Mr Erdogan said. Mr Macron said the two leaders held “frank” talks on Turkey’s bid for EU membership and the human rights situation in Turkey – a major sticking point.
“We should… see if we cannot rethink this relationship, not in the framework of the (EU) integration process, but perhaps a cooperation, a partnership,” he said, adding the main goal must be to keep Turkey – a Nato member – “anchored” in Europe and its “future… built looking towards Europe and with Europe”.
Mr Macron and Mr Erdogan also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against terror and the war in Syria. France and Turkish officials also signed defence, banking and commercial deals, including the planned sale of 25 Airbus A330s to Turkish Airlines.
The trip was Mr Erdogan’s first to France since his government strongly cracked down on suspected opponents following the failed coup. About 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 others removed from public sector jobs in Turkey. Many have protested they are innocent.
While Mr Erdogan travelled to Paris, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is scheduled to meet with German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel on Saturday.