The Minister for European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator Ömer Çelik said Wednesday that the European Union must join forces with Turkey to overcome the problems destabilizing Europe, including terrorism, far-right populism, Brexit and the migrant crisis.
Çelik was in Madrid taking part in a discussion on Europe’s future.
He told an audience of diplomats, intellectuals and politicians that “threats to the EU are growing” and said its relationship with Turkey was particularly important.
“And we have to remember that the values the EU represents are universal, and we are worried about them being affected.”
Yet, after being on the waiting list to join Europe since 1999, he said Turkey was a “patient candidate,” adding that while he understands these things take time, Turkey’s case has become political and tainted by xenophobia and Islamophobia from increasingly popular far-right parties in Europe.
“This is not just a Turkish problem; populists feed off of the negativity around Turkey,” Çelik said.
During the event, hosted by Spanish think-tank El Cano, Çelik said Turkey would also be more capable of addressing its own challenges, which clearly affect Europe as well, if it were part of the EU.
When asked about freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Turkey, he explained the complex situation in Turkey but added that it was up for debate.
“We are open to criticism, we are candidates of the EU, so it’s something we have to address and can’t ignore… in terms of freedom of the press, if Europe opens chapters 23 and 24 then we’ll talk,” he said, referring to the two key chapters that push candidate countries to further align its laws, freedoms, and justice systems with EU norms.
Çelik also told the audience that Spain has been an important partner in Turkey’s EU candidacy and is the country most capable of understanding Turkey, due to similar histories, challenges and shared Mediterranean culture.
The EU minister will be in Spain for two days and will meet Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis and representatives of the Spanish business world.
“We can’t forget that we are in the same boat in the journey of Europe, which is why we have to address problems together,” Çelik said.
Ankara applied for the European Economic Community (EEC) membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005. However, negotiations hit a stalemate in 2007 because of disagreements on the Cyprus issue. The German and French governments have been opposed to the country’s full EU membership.
Only 16 policy chapters have been opened out of a total of 35 since negotiations began 54 years ago. The latest, Chapter 33 on financial and budgetary provisions, was opened in recent accession talks.