President congratulates EU chief, invites him to Turkey

President congratulates EU chief, invites him to Turkey

President congratulates EU chief, invites him to Turkey

EU Commission President Juncker addresses a news conference following a EU leaders summit in Brussels. REUTERS Photo

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has extended an invitation Jean-Claude Juncker to visit Turkey, as he called to congratulate the EU chief over his “new” post after being elected head of the European Commission back in July.

Erdoğan initiated a telephone conversation with Juncker and congratulated him for taking over as president of the European Commission and wished him success, sources from the president’s office told the state-run Anadolu Agency late on Dec. 22.

Both Erdoğan, who served as Turkey’s prime minister from early 2003 until being elected president in August, and Juncker, Luxembourg’s former prime minister, underlined their “friendship,” the sources said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Erdoğan and Juncker also emphasized the importance of making progress in Turkey’s EU membership process in the future, the sources told the agency.

Recalling that Turkey considers EU membership a strategic choice, Erdoğan extended an invitation to Juncker to visit the EU membership candidate country, the agency reported. In response, Juncker said he would be happy to pay such a visit, while noting that he would try to visit in the spring of 2015.

Juncker was elected by the European Parliament to the presidency, the most powerful job in Brussels, back in July. Erdoğan’s initiative to hold a telephone conversation under the pretense of congratulating Juncker months after his election comes just days after an escalation of tension between Ankara and Brussels.

The EU has sharply criticized the detention of 30 people in mid-December after raids on journalists, scriptwriters and police deemed close to U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, a former ally turned arch-enemy of Erdoğan.

“Turkey is not the EU’s doorman,” Erdoğan said in a speech delivered on Dec. 20, sarcastically noting that the bloc had rushed to level its criticism during the Christmas holiday period while it had “kept Turkey waiting at the door for 50 years.”

He accused the international press of “latching on” to the EU campaign against Turkey one day after the New York Times accused Erdoğan in a tough editorial of being an “authoritarian leader living in a parallel universe.”

Erdoğan’s heated rhetoric against the EU adds to existing problems for Turkey’s long-stalled membership bid, already held up by disputes over Cyprus and human rights.

He noted that Turkey has taken in 1.7 million Syrian refugees at a cost of $5.5 billion (4.5 billion euros), but bitterly complained that Ankara had only received $200 million in help from the EU.

“When it comes to money, this is their god,” he said.