ANKARA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU on Tuesday of stalling Muslim Turkey’s membership bid by changing accession rules and said Turks were weary of “waiting at the gates” of Europe.
Erdogan spoke to Reuters on the same day the European Commission, executive arm of the European Union, chided Ankara for failing to revive key reforms in areas including as media freedom and human rights.
“We have been kept waiting at the gates of the EU for 50 years,” Erdogan said in an interview, underlining Ankara’s mounting frustration at the slow pace of accession talks.
“We are still waiting and waiting and still in the negotiating process,” adding Turkey’s public opinion was becoming “offended with the situation”.
“Since the game started, new rules have been brought into the game,” he said, voicing Ankara’s frequent complaint that Turkey is being unfairly discriminated against in a way that no previous EU candidate country had suffered.
Turkey, which straddles Asia and Europe, entered formal membership talks with the EU in 2005 but a row with Cyprus as well as reluctance among some EU governments to admit the large, relatively poor country has slowed progress to near standstill.
Out of 35 “chapters” — or subject areas for negotiation on EU entry — Turkey has completed only one and opened 13 others, leaving 21 to go.
With 18 chapters blocked, Turkey has only three remaining to open this year before it runs out of chapters to negotiate.
“I’m waiting to see what will happen after these three new chapters are opened and see what the EU will decide.”
In its annual progress report on aspirants to join the bloc, the EU executive said on Tuesday that Turkey, for another year, had failed to normalise relations with Cyprus, the southern part of the Mediterranean island that comes under the EU.
Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s long-held position that it will open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus when the EU ends its embargo of the Turkish enclave in the north of Cyprus — a territory recognised only by Ankara.
“In this progress report one of the important elements raised is to open up the ports. We say: ‘Yes, let’s open up the ports, let’s open them together,’” he said.
Some EU member states and the United States say EU membership would firmly anchor Turkey in the West and would help build a bridge with the Islamic world.
But EU heavyweights France and Germany say Turkey, which has a population of 75 million people and borders Syria, Iran and Iraq, is too culturally different and poor to fit in the bloc.
Turkey, which has one of the world’s fastest growing economies, says it is committed to joining the EU, but has suggested it might go its own way, even joining one day the ranks of emerging BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China.
As its EU bid has slowed, Ankara has strengthened ties with Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, raising concerns the long-time NATO country is drifting East.
In the interview, Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s reservations about NATO’s planned anti-missile system, saying it should not be presented as a defence against any particular country — a veiled reference to fellow Muslim state Iran.
NATO, which will discuss the U.S.-backed programme at a summit in Lisbon on Nov. 19-20, has said the system is intended to defend the alliance against a missile attack by the Islamic Republic and other “rogue states”.
Erdogan also raised technical issues, including who would have the command and who would push the button.
“Once such issues have been determined, then we will give our final decision on that.”
U.S. officials have expressed hope that Turkey will back the system and avoid further straining ties between the two allies.
Turkey angered the United States when it voted against U.N. sanctions on Iran for its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is a cover to build a nuclear weapon. Iran denies this.
Erdogan said Turkey was against nuclear weapons in the region but, backing Iran’s position, said the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was “a natural right for every country”.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)
Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia