Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, who is on a three-day visit to Central Europe during which he has been giving messages directed at EU officials, has described the bloc’s stance regarding Turkey as “disrespectful,” and said that being an EU-reject is not the end of the world.

Erdo?an’s remarks last week that Turkey should join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) instead of the EU caused confusion and a bit of a controversy both in Turkey and Europe. Although he later said the Shanghai Five is not an alternative to EU membership, Erdo?an has repeatedly criticized the EU for being the wrongful party in the slow-down in Turkey’s membership negotiations.

He explained to Turkish journalists accompanying him in Prague on Tuesday that his interest in joining international organizations such as the Shanghai Five or the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are part of his approach to gain a larger market for Turkey and Turkish products.

Speaking about Turkey’s EU process, he said that Turkey was currently continuing to fulfill its obligations rising out of EU membership negotiations. However, he noted that Turkey’s membership process began in 1959 and was accelerated in 1963. “And we have been patient all this time. How far we have come? When you look, there is the customs union [1996] and the Helsinki summit [1999], when Turkey was given candidate status] and the official start of Turkey’s negotiations. We can call these three important steps. Except these three, they only engaged us. Has any other country been treated like this? No. This is in essence disrespect to Turkey. What is more natural than us expressing this situation?”

He further noted: “But is the EU a sine qua non for Turkey? Let me say that too, it is not something we can’t do without. It is not the end of the world if they don’t accept us to the EU. And the world is still here. We are still continuing on our path in a stable manner.”

‘Sarkozy had promised support’

Erdo?an said when Turkey was officially approved as a candidate country, it had taken a great effort. “We had one open and closed chapter. Then the governments in France and Germany changed. No chapters were closed. There are 13 chapters [being negotiated] opened in total still,” he said. He noted that although former President Nicolas Sarkozy promised him that he would be supportive of Turkey’s EU membership prior to his election, he became an obstacle in the way of full membership. “With Mrs. Merkel, we opened two chapters during her term in office, but no chapters were closed again. It doesn’t have any significance if there are no chapters being closed.”

The prime minister said it was his responsibility as the prime minister of a country of 76 million to tell his people and the world about the situation regarding the EU process. “And the world has to know about this.” He said the Shanghai Five or ASEAN were not alternative searches, emphasizing that none of these international organizations constitute an alternative to another.

Erdo?an also criticized the opposition, for not being supportive of the EU process initially. He said the opposition has criticized the government that Turkey’s membership in the Shanghai Five might be problematic as a NATO member. “The EU says that it can establish relations with the SCO, that it is striving to do this. They are making this effort, and why shouldn’t they be?” He said the SCO currently has six partners and five observers. “We were accepted as dialogue partners in the June 6-7, 2012 summit. There are three dialogue partners including us.”

He also said he was finding it hard to understand why the opposition at home was uneasy about his comments, as he has also made it clear that the different organizations in which Turkey considers membership are not alternatives to one another. “I recently heard that the leader of the main opposition party is blaming the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for not being able to enter the EU. Erdo?an said historically, these claims didn’t make sense as it was under the AK Party government that the most significant steps were taken. He said the only other government that took a serious step was Tansu Çiller’s government, during whose term the 1996 Customs Union Agreement was signed. “And so many attacked her when the customs union agreement was signed,” he recalled criticism directed at Çiller in 1996.

The prime minister said Turkey only refused to comply with the [additional protocol to the] Ankara Agreement, which necessitates opening ports and harbors to the Greek Cyprus Administration, a country Turkey doesn’t recognize, but the EU has completely ignored the timeline scheduled out for Turkey’s membership process. “There is a timeline that has been agreed on; this has to happen in six years, this within 12 years. When you look at it, none of these are followed properly. They have been keeping us engaged all this time.” He said for Turkey to sign the additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement, the Turkish Parliament has to ratify it first. “And such ratification necessitates a constitutional majority. There is a risk here. This will come up later for us as a price to pay.”

He said the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has always seen the EU as a group of partners with Turkey being a market for them. “This approach is in the genes of the CHP mentality. That’s how they saw it, and this cost us a lot of time.” Noting that he never believed that CHP leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu would ever win an election in Turkey, but if that happened, he could turn against the EU. “Because his changes of heart are not measurable in years, but hours. He can make complete u-turns within 24 hours,” he said.

The prime minister said his government is determined about completing the EU process. He said Egemen Ba???, Turkey’s EU minister and chief EU negotiator, had visited EU nations 112 times in four years. “He went to Brussels only 33 times,” Erdo?an said, saying it is unfair to say that the government is not taking the negotiations seriously. “EU membership is an unchangeable agenda item every week at our Cabinet meetings. Mr. Ba??? always briefs us on what’s being done about the EU process, and which countries he will be visiting in the next two weeks.” However, he said Turkey was continuing to look for new markets everywhere, be that the SCO or ASEAN. “For example, as part of this plan, we are conducting work in Africa. Our trade with Africa was $3.5 million when we came to power, now it stands at $20 million.”

‘New constitution will be based on presidential system’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, who hasn’t made secret that he prefers a presidential system of government for Turkey as opposed to the country’s current parliamentary system, said a constitution that will be drafted by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will be based on a presidential system.

Speaking to Turkish journalists accompanying him on an official visit to Prague and Budapest on Tuesday, Erdo?an responded to questions about the ongoing work to draft a new and more democratic constitution for Turkey, saying that the parliamentary Reconciliation Commission, a multi-partisan committee in charge of drafting the text has reached agreement on about 35 percent of what has been discussed. He said the AK Party, based on this “minimum consensus” might propose a new text.

“If nothing comes out of the reconciliation commission, we might submit our own draft on to Parliament as a new constitutional proposal,” Erdo?an said. In response to a question on whether the new constitution will be based on a presidential system for Turkey, he said, “If we bring such a proposal as the AK Party, the presidential system will of course be in it. We will take it to the people. Of course we, will sit down and talk about this when the time comes will talk about it with other political parties. We are not ultimately pushing for a presidential system.”

The prime minister said the main opposition party claimed that there would be no Parliament in a presidential system. “And then another one asks, will Turkey become a monarchy? What does a presidential system have to do with a monarchy? Currently, the powers of the prime minister and even those of the president are higher than those held by these posts in a presidential system.”