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Turkey minister: EU 'shooting itself in foot'

From Richard Quest, CNN
January 13, 2012 -- Updated 1048 GMT (1848 HKT)
  • Turkey's finance minister says the country would be an asset to the EU
  • Turkey's path to EU membership remains fraught, in part due to problems pitching the idea to the country and Europe
  • Mehmet Simsek argues Turkey and Europe need each other

(CNN) -- The European Union is "shooting itself in the foot" by keeping Turkey at bay, the country's Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek says.

The nation, with an economy sprinting ahead of Europe's continental countries, would be an asset for the region, he said. But Turkey's path to EU membership remains fraught, in part due to problems pitching the idea to the country and Europe.

The debt crisis which has ravaged the European continent has been unhelpful for Turkey, but the key issue is feedback from European circles "that we're not loved and we're not wanted," Simsek told CNN. "It diminishes the support for change in this country because change requires leadership, but also requires a good story."

The EU, Simsek added, "is shooting itself in the foot by essentially trying to keep Turkey at bay. I think that's wrong but at the same time, my party just got 50% of the vote and our platform strongly supports EU membership -- so people still support change."

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There is a credible case for EU accession, but that has been dented by the question marks raised over Turkey's right to belong, Simsek said.

He argues Turkey and Europe need each other. "I think for regional stability, for energy supply security, for better standards of democracy... we need each other."

The country has its supporters. British Prime Minister David Cameron backs the country's accession, and points to Turkey's growing economy as a reason. But the EU wants Turkey to make further reforms, to the judicial system for example, before it can join.

Turkey -- which straddles Europe and Asia -- is in a key position to improve relations in the region. But the Arab Spring, which drew in some of Turkey's biggest trading partners, has been destabilizing for the area. "Our neighborhood is quite noisy ...and right now is not stable," Simsek said.

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But welcoming Turkey into the EU would, in the midst of such volatility, send a powerful message, he said. "You can be with the west. You can be secular. You can be Muslim. You can be prosperous. And you can be stable."

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