Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hit out at the EU on the last day of campaigning before a momentous constitutional referendum on Sunday that would grant him increased powers.
“The EU has lost all credibility. We don’t defend democracy, human rights and freedoms because they want us to, we do that because our citizens deserve it. As we get closer to democracy, they are moving away from it,” Erdogan told supporters at a rally in Istanbul.
Erdogan’s nationalist rhetoric in the run-up to the vote led to a number of clashes with European leaders and has thrown the prospect of Turkish membership of the bloc into serious doubt. During the campaign he accused the German and Dutch governments of Nazi tactics when they prevented his ministers from holding rallies among Turkish expats living in their countries. Tensions were raised further when Erdogan warned that Europeans would be unable to “walk safely on the streets” unless they changed their attitude towards Turkey. Concerned by what sounded like a veiled threat, the Turkish ambassador to the EU was summoned to the headquarters of the European External Action Service in Brussels to explain the comment.
At a Turkish-UK forum held in March, Erdogan suggested that Turkey might hold a referendum on whether or not to continue with its EU membership bid which has been in negotiation since 2005, but has met with resistance in Europe because of Turkey’s poor human rights record.
Besides the EU, Erdogan also had sharp words for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who had been invited to monitor the referendum, after it released an interim report claiming that opposition campaigners had been hampered by ‘bans, police interventions, and violent scuffles’ at their events. The OSCE also pointed to the closure of media outlets and arrest of journalists in the wake of last year’s failed coup attempt as factors that have weakened the ‘No’ campaign.
“Now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says if the result is ‘yes’, that means there are a lot of problems. Who are you? First of all, you should know your place. This is not your duty,” said the Turkish leader at a rally in Kony on Friday.
If the referendum passes it will empower the president to issue decrees, appoint judges and dissolve parliament while abolishing the role of prime minister. Proponents argue that the amendments will allow for stronger, more effective government, while ‘No’ campaigners and many international bodies say they will concentrate too much power in the hands of the executive.