ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the European Union is pressing Turkey to abandon its bid to join the economic bloc, and suggested a referendum on the issue.
A progress report by the EU's European Commission on Turkey criticized Ankara's tough anti-terrorism legislation, suppression of fundamental freedoms and lack of judicial independence, prompting a demand from Erdogan that Turkey's accession to the EU be considered immediately. He also suggested a referendum on whether to proceed with accession talks with the EU.
"The European Union is pressing us to withdraw from our [accession] process. If they don't want us, they should make a decision and speak clearly about it. Our patience has its limits. If need be, we could also consult our people. Let's see what the people will say," Ergodan told the Istanbul-based Hurryiet Daily News on Sunday, RT reported.
Speaking Monday at a trade association meeting in Ankara, Erdogan reinforced the point, saying, "You [the EU] have been late, give your decision soon. As president, I say let's be patient until the end of the year, then we can refer it to the nation,"
Turkey began formal talks to enter the EU in 2005. A deal was struck in March 2016 in which Turkey would assist the EU in dealing with Europe's migrant crisis in exchange for favors including facilitated EU inclusion. The progress report noted 72 deficiencies, areas in which Turkey did not meet the EU criteria for membership, noting anti-terrorism legislation and a government crackdown on political opponents since the coup attempt in July.
Turkey has since rolled back judicial independence, arrested hundreds and clamped down on freedom of expression and other human rights.
"The coup attempt of July 15 was an attack on democracy per se. We were among the very first to condemn it. And given the seriousness of the situation, a swift reaction to the threat was legitimate. Turkey, as a candidate country, must fulfill the highest standards in the rule of law and fundamental rights, to which it committed itself and on which there cannot be any compromises. In this year's report, we therefore stress Turkey's backsliding in the area of rule of law and fundamental rights," Johannes Hahn of the EU's enlargement office said.