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Turkey looks east as EU hopes falter

Erdogan is tearing up Turkey's long-standing policy of trying to join the EU [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 November, 2016

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After decades of unsuccessful attempts to join the European political and economic bloc, Turkey could concentrate efforts on becoming a member of a Chinese-led union.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey should look east if its plans on joining the European Union do not go ahead.

He said that instead of remaining "fixated" on Brussels, the country should look at opportunities of joining Russia and China in a Eurasian security bloc, local media reported.

"Turkey should first of all feel relaxed about the EU and not be fixated" about joining it, Erdogan told Turkish journalists on a plane from Uzbekistan, Hurriyet newspaper reported.

"Some may criticise me but I express my opinion. For example, I say 'why shouldn't Turkey be in the Shanghai 5?," he said.

Turkey has grown increasingly frustrated with repeated failed attempts to enter the European trading bloc.

A government crackdown on suspected dissidents following the failed July coup attempt has led to growing criticism of Ankara by European statee.

Now, Ankara appears to be looking at a Chinese-led initiative as an alternative.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) - also called the Shanghai Pact - is a loose security and economic bloc led by Russia and China. Other members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Erdogan said he had already discussed the idea with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Erdogan has several times floated plans for Turkey to join the SCO, a move that could scupper its long-standing EU membership bid.

The SOC option became clouded, though, when a Russian warplane was downed by the Turkish air force last November.

Turkish media reported in August that Nazarbayev mediated a deal between Ankara and Moscow to smooth over the dispute.

Turkey formally applied to become an EU member in 1987 and accession talks only began in 2005, even though Ankara's aspirations to become part of the bloc dates back to the 1960s.

Brussels has harshly criticised the Turkish government's crackdown on alleged coup plotters, urging Ankara to comply with rights and freedoms criteria.

Erdogan warned the EU to decide by year's end on its membership bid this week, threatening to otherwise call a referendum on this matter.

Turkey and the EU agreed to speed up membership talks in March as part of an accord on curbing migrant flows into Greece.

The deal was clinched in return for several incentives for Ankara including EU cash assistance for Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as visa-free travel to Schengen area by Turks.

But the process, which was already in difficulty, is on a sharp downward spiral following Ankara's crackdown after the attempted coup.

Mass arrests and job dismissals and measures against the Turkish press have triggered a sharp reaction from EU politicians and rights watchdogs.

Some MEPs have even backed calls for membership talks with Ankara to be halted due to the growing authoritarian nature of the Turkish government.

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