By Emre Ayvaz, Omer Faruk Cebeci
The European Union's former commissioner for enlargement on Thursday criticized the decade-long accession negotiations for Turkey to become a member of the bloc.
“The European Union needs Turkey probably more than Turkey needs the European Union,” said Gunter Verheugen, speaking on the sidelines of the Kartepe Summit titled 'International Symposium on July 15 and Coups D’état - Global Impacts, Media and Democracy' hosted by the Kocaeli Metropolitan Municipality.
Turkey applied for membership in the European Economic Community, a precursor to the EU, in 1987. It became eligible for EU membership in 1997 and accession talks began in 2005. To gain membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations with the EU in 35 policy chapters that involve reforms and the adoption of European standards.
“Turkey was discriminated against” during its acession process, Verheugen said, adding while many nations were accepted as candidate countries, Turkey was not.
“There was a wind of change in the European Union already in 2005,” he said.
“Turkey was made a scapegoat for the defeat in the referendum on the European Constitution,” he added.
Verheugen said the bloc lost interest in enlargement, noting “there was enlargement fatigue everywhere in Europe”.
He also criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for saying Turkey should not become a member of the EU.
“I was absolutely shocked that German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the famous TV debate before the German elections said she never supported the accession of Turkey,” Verheugen said.
He said a deal between the E.U. and Turkey had been reached in 2016 “as a result of her demand and her initiative”.
The deal aimed to discourage irregular migration to Europe through the Aegean Sea and included a €6 billion ($6.9 billion) aid package to help Turkey care for millions of refugees hosted in the country.
The agreement also allowed for the acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area that comprises most EU states.
“The Turkish side fulfilled [its part] and saved Angela Merkel's chancellorship. But you didn’t get the visa liberation,” he added.
Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world. Ankara says it has spent more than €20 billion ($23.3 billion) of its own money on helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.
On last year’s July 15 defeated coup attempt, Verheugen said: “We have to make this really clear that Turkey is a fully functioning democracy, and an attempt to overcome this democracy is a serious crime.”
He said he had expected strong demonstrations everywhere in Europe in solidarity with the people of Turkey and its democracy.
Verheugen said imagine if this coup attempt had happened in Italy and people fought against tanks and soldiers and defeated it.
“What would be reaction? These Italians are real heroes.”
He said this was not the case with Turkey.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
“This was a terrible lack of understanding, a lack of goodwill to understand what Turkey is and what Turkey’s problems are,” he added.
FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.