ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters on Tuesday that Turkey would reconsider its position on joining the European Union if it was kept waiting much longer and if the current hostile mentality of some member states persists.
Erdogan said a decision on Tuesday by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a leading human rights body, to put Turkey on a watch list was “entirely political” and Ankara did not recognize the move.
He said he was ready to take the question of EU accession to a referendum and that Turkey could not wait indefinitely after 54 years at the door.
“In Europe, things have become very serious in terms of the extent of Islamophobia. The EU is closing its doors on Turkey and Turkey is not closing its doors on anybody,” Erdogan said in an interview at the presidential palace in Ankara.
“If they are not acting sincerely we have to find a way out. Why should we wait any longer? We are talking about 54 years,” he said.
“The UK asked her people and they voted for Brexit ... They have peace of mind, they are walking towards a new future, and the same thing was conducted by Norway ... and the same thing can be applied for Turkey too.”
It is a critical week for Turkish-EU relations. EU lawmakers will debate ties on Wednesday, while the bloc’s foreign ministers will discuss the issue on Friday and EU leaders are expected to exchange views at a meeting on Brexit on Saturday.
Erdogan said he would be closely watching.
“I am very curious as to how the EU is going to act vis-a-vis this last (PACE) resolution,” he said, criticizing EU member states that have called for an end to accession talks.
He said Turkey was still committed to negotiations.
“There is not a single thing that we are not ready to do, the minute they ask for it. Whatever they wish, we do. But still they are keeping us at the door,” he said.
Erdogan pointed to the French presidential election, in which far-right leader Marine Le Pen has threatened to take France out of the European Union, and said the bloc was “on the verge of dissolution, of breaking up.”
“One or two countries cannot keep the EU alive. You need a country like Turkey, a different country symbolizing a different faith, this would make them very strong,” he said.
“But the EU member states don’t seem to realize this fact. They are finding it very difficult to absorb a Muslim country like Turkey.”
Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Nick Tattersall and Orhan Coskun; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans