President Tayyip Erdoğan said that Türkiye “can part ways with the EU if necessary”. Erdoğan’s statement came when asked about the latest Türkiye report of the European Parliament during a press conference before his departure from İstanbul to New York on September 16 to attend the United Nations General Assembly. He said:
• “The European Union is endeavoring to break away from Türkiye. In this period when the EU is making moves to break away from Türkiye, we make our evaluations in the face of these developments and after these evaluations, we can part ways with the EU if necessary.”
This is the first time Erdoğan has spoken so openly about unilaterally parting ways with the EU if necessary. Ankara has been pursuing a policy of “not being the first to say no” to the EU since 2007 when membership talks were suspended. Erdoğan said the following in a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in New Delhi, where he was in New Delhi for the G20 Summit on September 10:
• “EU member states have been stalling us for 50 years, and they are stalling us today. Whether they stall us or not, Türkiye is Türkiye; we will continue on our way.”
EU, NATO, Sweden
A few days after this statement, on September 13, the European Parliament released its 2022 report on Türkiye. The report advised the Council of Europe not to resume accession negotiations with Türkiye unless Türkiye undertakes democratization reforms. It also called on Türkiye to approve Sweden’s NATO membership, while arguing that there was no connection between Türkiye’s EU membership and Sweden’s NATO membership.
At the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 11-12, Erdoğan added support for the revival of Türkiye’s membership negotiations with the EU as a condition for Türkiye’s approval of Sweden’s membership.
“If [in the US] there is a House of Representatives there, I also have a parliament,” the President said at the press conference, reacting to the link between the sale of F-16s and Sweden’s membership during a quick meeting with US President Biden.
Even though the European Parliament has no sanctioning power, it reflects the political psychology of European voters. This postponed Erdoğan’s election promises of rapprochement with the EU, renewal of the Customs Union, and hopes for an imminent improvement in visa issues, especially for millions of citizens.
Parting ways or bargaining position?
The more important aspect of Erdoğan’s outburst is that it marks the first official reversal from Türkiye’s strategic goal of integration with the EU, which was set by a parliamentary resolution.
Turkish economy struggling with financial problems has strong bonds with the EU; half of its exports are to EU countries.
Erdoğan did not say whether he meant to withdraw Türkiye’s application for EU membership. Therefore, it is difficult to comment at this stage whether this is a sign of a strategic rupture or a way of urging the EU to decide or negotiate.