Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan has ramped up his anti-EU rhetoric on the eve of a referendum which would hand him sweeping powers.
Erdogan said he would review Ankara’s relationship with Brussels, as he seeks to shore up support for the constitutional changes needed to transfer more power away from parliament to the president.
“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.
He continued saying that the EU feared the new system because Turkey would be ‘even stronger’. In his speech he said that the EU had left Turkey waiting 54 years for membership, and that the vote on Sunday would be a turning point. Over the course of the campaign Erdogan’s speeches have shown a clear shift in ties with Brussels, becoming far more critical of the 27-member bloc. When ministers attempted to campaign in EU countries, there was a clampdown on rallies and Erdogan responded by calling leaders ‘fascists’ and ‘Nazis’.
Also in Istanbul, the ‘No’ campaign formed a symbolic human chain on the European side of the Bosphorous strait which divides Asia and Europe.
They fear the constitutional changes would see Turkey lurch towards authoritarianism. The new system could allow Erdogan to run for two more terms, potentially stretching his rule to 2029.
“I have two children. I’m here for my children and for a Turkey where the values I was born with remain, where my children can continue to think freely and where journalists and teachers are not put behind bars,” said one ‘No’ supporter.
The vote comes at a time of turmoil, with the country reeling from a series of bombings by ISIL and Kurdish militants, a failed coup and subsequent purge as well as a deep economic slowdown, something which the president says requires a stronger leadership to bring under control.