“Turkey should first of all feel relaxed about the EU and not be fixated” about joining it, Erdoğan told reporters on the presidential plane returning from Uzbekistan, daily Hürriyet reported.
“Some may criticize me but I express my opinion. For example, I have said ‘why shouldn’t Turkey be in the Shanghai 5?’” he said.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), also known as the “Shanghai 5,” is a loose security and economic bloc led by Russia and China. The other formal members are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Erdoğan said he had already discussed the idea with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“[The SCO] was established by five members, but then countries such as Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India also got involved,” he said.
“Iran wants to be involved and Mr. Putin said ‘we are evaluating the situation.’ Turkey being a part of the Shanghai 5 will allow it to act more freely [in its EU bid],” Erdoğan added.
Erdoğan has several times floated plans for Turkey to join the SCO, a move that could scupper its long-standing EU membership bid.
Turkey formally applied to become an EU member in 1987 and accession talks only began in 2005, even though Ankara’s aspirations to become part of the bloc date back to the 1960s.
“The EU has been delaying us for 53 years. How can such a thing happen?” Erdoğan said.
“I was invited to the leaders’ summits in my early years as prime minister. Then they stopped inviting us. Why? Because we told everything as it was. For example, they open up [accession] chapters, but they don’t close them. Why open the chapters if they will not be closed?”
Relations between Turkey and the EU has been especially tense since the July 15 failed coup attempt. Ankara says it has not received enough support from its EU allies against the followers of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamic preacher widely believed to have masterminded the coup attempt, or other groups it deems terrorists.
Brussels, meanwhile, has harshly criticized the Turkish government’s crackdown on alleged coup plotters, urging Ankara to comply with the EU’s rights and freedoms criteria.
Speaking on his return from Uzbekistan, Erdoğan once again warned the EU to “decide by the end of the year” on Turkey’s membership bid and its pledge to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens as part of the refugee deal. He also again floated the idea of calling a referendum on the matter of Turkey’s EU accession bid.
“Latin America countries enjoy visa-free travel [in the Schengen zone], but they delay Turkey. We discussed the issue the other day and said: ‘Let’s be patient until the end of the year. Some things have to happen, or we’ll shut down that file on the readmission [of migrants as part of the refugee deal],’” Erdoğan added.
Turkey and the EU agreed to speed up membership talks in March as part of an accord on curbing migrant flows into Greece.
The deal was clinched in return for several incentives for Ankara, including EU cash assistance for Syrian refugees in Turkey and visa-free travel to the Schengen area by Turks.
But the process, which was already in difficulty, is on a sharp downward spiral following Ankara’s crackdown after the attempted coup. Some European parliamentarians have even backed calls for membership talks with Ankara to be halted.