Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he is “seriously tired” of waiting for the European Union to decide if it wants his country as a member.
Erdogan was in Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, part of efforts to improve his government’s strained relationship with Europe. 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,” Macron said during a joint news conference with Erdogan, adding that stringing Turkey along was hypocritical.
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 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.
Erdogan unleashed a series of insults at NATO allies, accusing European officials of racism, harboring terrorists and behaving like Nazis.
The Turkish president was less bombastic, but just as emphatic, on Friday 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,” Erdogan said.
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 toward Europe and with Europe.”
Macron and Erdogan also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fight against terror and the war in Syria. France and Turkish officials also signed defense, banking and commercial deals, including the planned sale of 25 Airbus A330s to Turkish Airlines.
The trip was Erdogan’s first to France since his government strongly cracked down on suspected opponents following a failed coup in July 2016. About 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 others removed from public sector jobs in Turkey. Many have protested they are innocent.
Protests over deteriorating press freedoms and human rights abuses in Turkey greeted Erdogan upon his arrival.
About 30 activists from Reporters without Borders held images of jailed journalists outside the Turkish Embassy. A dozen demonstrators, mainly ethnic Kurds, later tried to reach the presidential Elysee palace, but police pushed them back.
The French Communist Party and several left-wing parties have criticized Erdogan’s visit to France, which came the day before the fifth anniversary of the slayings in Paris of three Kurdish women activists.
“The French judicial system has pointed out Turkish secret services’ involvement in this crime,” the Communist Party said.
Macron said he raised the issues of media freedom and fundamental human rights with Erdogan, giving the Turkish leader a list of journalists and non-governmental workers he thinks were wrongly targeted during the post-coup crackdown.
“We will find concrete and real solutions that will allow the few cases to be settled, and to settle what has sometimes been a misunderstanding, a harmful misunderstanding,” Macron said.
Erdogan responded that some “columnists and opinion leaders are the gardeners of terrorism.”