ANKARA (Sputnik) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the issue of Turkey joining the European Union could be put to a referendum next year. Erdogan's warnings followed European Parliament President Martin Schulz's threats to introduce economic sanctions against Turkey amid arrests of opposition politicians and journalists in the country. Schulz also said that Brussels would halt Ankara's accession talks if Turkey introduced capital punishment.
Turkey signed an association agreement with the then-European Community in 1963, and submitted a membership application in 1987. Talks about Ankara's membership of the European Union began in 2005. The negotiations on Turkish EU membership have been repeatedly suspended due to the Cyprus dispute and Turkey's record of denying press freedom, among other obstacles.
"Brexit can spread, such voices are heard from France, Italy. Under these circumstances, Turkey should feel calm. One should not say that the European Union is the only option. Why Turkey cannot become a member of the SCO? I talked about it with Putin and Nazarbayev. Turkey's participation in the SCO will give us more freedom of action in this regard," Erdogan told the Turkish reporters on the flight back after his official visit to Uzbekistan as quoted by the Sabah newspaper.
The Turkish leader said that the process of normalization of relations with Russia after the November 2015 downing of a Russian aircraft by Turkey over Syria was going forward.
"The relations with Russia we have now are good. Everything cannot happen overnight. On December 5-6, our prime minister [Binali Yildirim] will visit Russia, while in the first quarter of 2017 the High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council will be held. High-level visits are continuing."
The SCO is a political, economic and military alliance that includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Belarus, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan hold observer status in the organization, while Turkey, as well as Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Armenia, Nepal and Sri Lanka hold status of dialogue partners. Pakistan, India and Iran have officially applied for SCO membership.