Erdogan looks to SCO as alternative to EU

22 November 2016 Georgy Stepanov, Kommersant
Turkey’s President has said one of the options the country was looking at as an alternative to the European Union was to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan does not fully understand what the SCO really is, experts say. Source:AP

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey considers joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a real alternative to membership of the European Union.

“Turkey is not hung up on the question of the EU,” TV Channel Haberturk broadcast Erdogan’s words to a group of journalists who accompanied him to Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

Erdogan said events similar to ‘Brexit’ may occur in Europe in the foreseeable future.

“Such voices are now being heard in France, and in Italy. Under these circumstances, Turkey should simply relax. No need to say that the European Union is the only option. Why should Turkey not become a member of the SCO? I talked about this with (Vladimir) Putin and (Nursultan) Nazarbayev. Participation in the SCO will provide us with greater freedom of manoeuvre,” said the President of Turkey.

Erdogan criticized the European Union which, according to him, has stretched the process of Turkey’s accession to the union to infinity. “During the first years, they used to invite our Prime Minister to the EU Summits, but this practice has now ended. They introduced a visa-free regime with Latin America, but we are still being forced to wait,” he lamented.

Some days earlier, the Turkish President said Turkey could hold a referendum in 2017 on continuing negotiations on accession to the EU. He also said he was ready to sign a law on the death penalty if it was adopted by Parliament and approved by voters. (Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2002 as it was a key criterion for EU membership). Meanwhile, European Parliament President Martin Schulz warned on November 13 that, “If Turkey should return the death penalty, then accession negotiations will be terminated.”

Pyotr Topychkanov, researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, told Kommersant that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization cannot be an alternative to the EU for Turkey.

“It seems that Erdogan does not fully understand what the SCO really is,” said Topychkanov. “If this statement of the President was prepared by his speech writers, then they have demonstrated their incompetence. The EU and the SCO are two completely different phenomenon, they work in different fields, and do not compete with each other. The EU is a multi-national quasi-state formation, while the SCO is a much “looser” structure, membership of which, unlike the EU, permits differences on many issues, particularly on the political development of the state.”

Topychkanov said that Turkey, regardless of its relations with the EU, has been throwing long glances in the direction of the SCO, and today has the status of partner of this organization. “Ankara is attracted to the SCO as a platform, on which infrastructure projects are being implemented with the participation of China. Turkey is not capable of completing such large-scale projects on its own. I do not see any serious obstacles to its inclusion in the list of observers. However, the SCO must first digest the membership of India and Pakistan, which should take about five years,” Topychkanov said.

First published in Russian by Kommersant.

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