LONDON (Reuters) - Turkey is still determined to join the European Union despite the current crisis in the euro zone and can become the bloc’s economic “growth engine”, President Abdullah Gul said in an interview published on Sunday.
Gul rejected concerns that the economic problems facing the euro zone meant that any further expansion of the 27-member EU should be put on hold.
EU countries agreed unanimously in 2005 to start talks with mainly Muslim Turkey with the goal of full membership.
However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy remains opposed to Turkey joining and German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she favours a “privileged partnership” for Turkey rather than full membership.
“Some people who think in a narrow scope and who do lack a strategic perspective consider Turkey’s membership a burden,” Gul, who is travelling to Britain this week for a three-day visit, told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph.
“But those who can think 30 years, 60 years ahead, and who can think about the changing trends in the economy and the changing centres of power, can understand how much strength Turkey can bring to the existing strength of Europe.”
Gul said Turkey’s membership of NATO had been considered the only reason for it to be allowed to join but now its booming economy, where GDP grew by 11 percent in the first quarter of 2011, was as valid.
“Consider the potential that Turkey has: Turkey’s position, her assets, the value she can add in terms of energy resources, her population, the dynamism she can bring into Europe, and also the growth that she can bring, with Turkey being the engine of this growth.”
He said Turkey viewed the euro zone crisis as a temporary situation.
“We approach the negotiations with a strategic vision, and are very determined.”
Turkey has also been taking a tough approach against Syria over its crackdown on opponents of President Bashar al-Assad and Gul said his country would back the Syrian people.
“When any kind of movement has its roots among the people of the country and the walls of fear come down, then the end result is very obvious,” he said.
“With a strong and clear voice we are saying that the legitimate demands of the people are being supported by us. We enable them to have their meetings and discussions in a free environment, and provide a diplomatic platform.
“I strongly believe that there is no place any more for authoritarian regimes — single party systems that do not have accountability or transparency — on the shores of the Mediterranean.”
Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Ralph Gowling