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As EU Talks Crumble, Turkey Hopes to Join ‘Shanghai Block’

(GPA) Ankara – After 11 years of continuous negotiations, Turkish president Recep Erdogan has said his country doesn’t need to join the European Union (EU) if it conflicts with national interests.

Since the coup against Erdogan’s Growing autocratic rule in July, talks with the EU have hit an all time low due to continuous human rights violations and Erdogan’s increasingly dictatorial rule. With where the talks are now and the valid criticisms, President Erdogan has voiced that he doesn’t necessarily need to join the EU “at all costs.”

When asked what the alternative would be in an interview with Hurriyet Daily News, Erdogan floated the idea of joining the economic bloc known as the Shanghai Five – the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO is an economic group led by China and Russia founded in cooperation with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

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Erdogan told Hurriyet that he already had a discussion on joining the trade block with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The organization also includes countries like Pakistan, India and Uzbekistan. Erdogan also voiced his discontent with the EU’s deliberation on finalizing Turkish membership saying “The EU has been delaying us for 53 years. How can such a thing happen.”

The “53 year” remark is a bit extreme, but somewhat true since Turkey has asked to be a part of the European block since the 1960’s. The official request to join the EU as a member state was opened in 1987 and accession talks didn’t start until 2005. Erdogan summed up his frustration with the EU’s slow pace when he said he “was invited to the leaders’ summits in my early years as prime minister. Then they stopped inviting us. Why? Because we told everything as it was. For example, they open up [accession] chapters, but they don’t close them. Why open the chapters if they will not be closed?”

Erdogan believes joining the SCO would allow Turkey to “act more freely” in their bid to join the EU but European leaders and analysts feel it is more likely to make the process even more difficult. Erdogan previously stated that he may put the EU membership talks in the hands of the civilian population as a ballot referendum in 2017. This could end up going either direction but since Erdogan’s party encompasses a majority of voters in Turkey, it is still highly likely that it will follow his general will towards Europe at the time.

The move would also shake up the relationship between Turkey and their partners in NATO since the country would be aligning themselves with the exact powers NATO is used to counter.

It’s probably unlikely that Erdogan will move Turkey into the SCO as anything more than what they are now – a ‘dialogue partner – which isn’t really membership at all. Even if they were to join, they would still only be an ‘observing member’ which doesn’t entitle them to a vote in the SCO, unlike if they were to join the EU and have a full partnership in the European Parliament.

If anything the threat of joining the SCO is probably just another weapon Erdogan is looking to add to his arsenal to put pressure on the EU to bend to his will. Erdogan has already weaponized Europe’s migrant crisis, the Turkish border with Syria and his previous talks with leaders of eastern states on military cooperation. It’s most likely that Erdogan still wants inclusion in the EU but wants to continue his style of autocratic rule; which the eastern powers would most likely turn a blind eye to in order to have more influence in a NATO partner and state bordering Europe.

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