A handout picture taken and released on April 8, 2017 by the Turkish Presidential Press Service shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivering a speech during a campaign rally for the “yes” vote in a constitutional referendum on the Yenikapi Square in Istanbul. On April 16, 2017, the Turkish public will vote on whether to change the current parliamentary system into an executive presidency.
Yasin BULBUL / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sunday that Turkey’s embattled bid to join the EU will be back “on the table” after next week’s referendum on enhancing his powers, raising new doubts about the future of the membership drive.
In a speech in the Aegean city of Izmir, Erdogan described Europe as a “sick man”, using the jibe that nineteenth century European politicians used to describe the decaying Ottoman Empire.
He once again threatened after the April 16 referendum to sign into law the reinstatement of the death penalty — if it was passed by parliament — a move that would automatically end the European Union membership bid.
“Europe will pay for what they have done. God willing, the question of the European Union will again be on the table after April 16,” said Erdogan.
He said that Turks living in Europe were “oppressed” and “humiliated”: “God willing, our people will bring them (Europe) to account,” he said.
“They said a century ago that we were the ‘sick man’. Now they are the ‘sick man’. Europe is collapsing,” he added, claiming the European economy weakened every year.
The EU is facing the gravest crisis in its six-decade history after last year’s British vote to leave the bloc, while populist and eurosceptic movements have gained ground across the continent.
Erdogan reaffirmed that if a bill on restoring the death penalty — abolished in 2004 as part of the EU bid — was brought to him he would sign it “without hesitation”.
The president has raised hackles in Europe over recent weeks by claiming some EU states were behaving like the Nazis by preventing his ministers from holding pre-election rallies.
While the ‘No’ campaign has struggled to make its voice heard as the ‘Yes’ campaign dominates the airwaves, analysts believe the outcome is still too close to call as the race enters the last week of campaigning.
Sunday marked the last day of expatriate voting in the referendum which is expected to be crucial to the outcome with some three million expatriate voters registered, almost half of them in Germany.
The ‘Yes’ campaign is also backed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which on Sunday held a giant rally led by its leader Devlet Bahceli in Istanbul at precisely the same shoreside venue used by Erdogan for a giant meeting the day earlier.