‘Unacceptable if we’re not in’: Turkey says it aims to be part of EU by 2023

© Francois Lenoir
Ankara wants to be part of the EU by 2023, Turkey's ambassador to the bloc has told a German newspaper. He added that Turkey belongs in the union and that it will be “unacceptable” if it fails to join.

“The Turkish government wants to join the EU by 2023. That year the Turkish republic will celebrate its 100th anniversary. It would be an achievement for my country to become a member by that time,” Selim Yenel, Turkey's ambassador to the EU, told German newspaper Die Welt on Friday.

He noted that the conditions for joining the union are not particularly favorable at the moment, but the situation may change quickly.

Yenel said that joining the EU is “very important” for Turkey, which submitted a membership application back in 1987 after signing an association treaty in 1963.

“There are countries that want to leave the EU, while Turkey wants to join it,” the EU envoy said. “In the long run, it will be unacceptable for us if we don’t belong to the EU.”

Yenel also called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leading European politicians, such as Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, to visit Turkey following the failed coup attempt last month, as it would help support democracy in the country.

Turkey has been in talks with the EU regarding its membership since 1999, but progress has been slow. The situation has become more complicated as EU and NATO leaders have shown reluctance in cooperating with Ankara in the wake of the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15.

Another point of contention is the EU-Turkey migrant deal forged in March. It aims to handle the flow of asylum seekers being smuggled to the EU by returning “all new irregular migrants” back to Turkey. In return, Turkey was promised a visa-free regime with EU member states.

However, visa-free access for Turkish nationals has been delayed due to Ankara’s anti-terrorism laws – which the EU deems unacceptable.

This week, Germany’s European Affairs Minister Michael Roth, speaking on Turkey’s effort to join the EU, told Reuters: “As long as the 72 criteria [needed for visa-free regime] have not been fulfilled – and a few are still open – there cannot be visa liberalization,” Roth said.

“Turkey faces a very long and difficult path. The criteria must be fulfilled, and it doesn’t look good at the moment. But I want to make clear that we want and need a European Turkey,” Roth added.

The European Commission seems to be divided over the visa-free issue, with some commissioners saying the proposal is off the table and others promising the plan will be back on the agenda after the summer break.

Turkey has repeated that it will end the migrant deal unless the visa-free conditions are fulfilled.

“I don't want to talk about the worst case scenario – talks with the EU are continuing but it's clear that we either apply all treaties at the same time, or we put them all aside,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with Germany’s Bild on Monday.