In his first comments on the British vote to leave the EU, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on June 24 that Brexit signals the beginning of a new era for the bloc, warning that the EU could face further breakup if it does not reconsider its policies, including those to do with migrants.
The problem is not Turkey but the EU itself, said Erdogan, adding that the bloc is not admitting Turkey because of Islamophobia. “Turkey will naturally take its place within the EU if the bloc sincerely questions itself and does what’s required,” he said.
Erdogan also criticised UK Prime Minister David Cameron who during his “Remain” campaign argued that Turkey would not join the EU until the year 3,000. “What happened now? You [Cameron] could not stand [in office] for even three days after the vote,” Erdogan said.
The UK has been of one of the closest allies of Turkey in Europe and it has been a keen supporter of Ankara’s bid to join the EU. Turkey’s membership was one of the key issues debated during the UK’s EU referendum campaign.
Turkey, a Muslim country with a population of 78mn, has been a candidate for EU membership since 1999. Formal accession negotiations started in 2005. Accession talks, however, have stalled over the past couple of years as the pace of reforms has slowed. EU member states raise serious questions about Turkey’s human rights records, while the other stumbling block is Turkey’s uneasy relations with Cyprus. The general perception in Ankara is that the EU is delaying Turkey’s accession because of its large Muslim population.
Erdogan has already said that Turkey could hold its own UK-style referendum on the country's EU accession talks. Turkey and the EU are at loggerheads over the implementation of a key migrant agreement. Ankara complains that the EU is failing to keep its promises, including visa-free travel to its citizens, as part of the migrant accord. But Brussels says for this to happen Turkey needs to fulfil all the conditions, among them changes to its draconian anti-terror laws. Erdogan refuses to do so, arguing that Turkey needs to keep all this laws in place in order to effectively counter the threats posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Islamic State.
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