Erdogan rejects Turkish partnership with EU

It comes after French president Emmanuel Macron said it was 'hypocrisy' to say progress could be made on Turkish EU membership, instead floating the idea of a partnership

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gestures as he attends a national youth foundation event in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. Syrian government forces pushed into an opposition stronghold on Thursday, as Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters battled with Kurdish militants in a nearby area. (Yasin Bulbul/Pool Photo via AP)
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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected proposals of a partnership with the European Union, insisting that full membership to the bloc is the only option.

Hosting Mr Erdogan on a visit to Paris last month, French president Emmanuel Macron said it was "hypocrisy" to say progress could be made on Turkish EU membership, instead floating the idea of a partnership.

The bloc must "keep its promises" to Turkey, Mr Erdogan told Italy's Stampa newspaper in an interview published on Sunday, ahead of his arrival in Rome on Sunday evening for a 24-hour visit.

"The EU is blocking access to negotiations and suggests that lack of progress is because of us. It's unfair. Just like it is that other countries are pushing for options other than membership," he said.

"We want full membership. Other options are not satisfactory."


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He stressed the country's "important" role in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe, which he said offered "security and stability" to the continent.

Turkish ambitions to join the EU date back over half a century but accession talks started in October 2005.

Out of the total of 35 chapters needed to be closed to join the EU, 16 have been opened with just one closed. No new chapter has been opened since financial and budgetary provisions was opened in June 2016.

The Turkish president also defended his country's recently-launched "Olive Branch" operation in the northern Syrian region of Afrin. The operation is targeting the Skyrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara sees as a terror group.

"The Turkish armed forces are not in Afrin to fight armed Kurdish groups. We don't have problems with the Kurdish Syrians, we are only fighting terrorists, and we have the right to do it," insisted Mr Erdogan, repeating that Turkey was not seeking territorial gains.

Mr Erdogan's flying visit to Italy will include a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella.

He will also be the first Turkish president to visit the Vatican in 59 years, where he will thank Pope Francis for challenging US president Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

"We are both in favour of the status quo and we have the will to protect it," he said.