( Turkishdailynews ) - Turkey will be relegated to "a Third World country" status unless it applies European Union standards of democracy and the rule of law, its chief EU negotiator said on Tuesday.
Economy Minister Ali Babacan made what sounded like a veiled warning to the EU candidate country's powerful military and secular judicial establishment after six weeks of political turmoil over the election of a new president.
Babacan said the events of the last month-and-a-half had shown how important Turkey and the EU were for each other.
"If there is no benchmark and if we think that each country has its own peculiar conditions and our democracy is specific to us, if we say we have the rule of law but sometimes we can do things outside of that, such approaches will condemn Turkey to be a Third World country for decades and decades," Babacan told a conference on EU-Turkey energy cooperation.
He did not elaborate but was clearly referring to a warning memo by the armed forces in April over the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) bid to have Parliament elect Foreign Minister Abdullah Gьl, an ex-Islamist whose wife wears a headscarf, as president.
The Constitutional Court then invalidated the presidential election in Parliament, ruling that the assembly had lacked a quorum. That prompted the government to call an early general election for July 22 and Gul to withdraw his candidacy.
Speaking on the same platform, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn urged Turkey not to step back from reforms because of the election campaign and to accelerate the process afterwards.
"We need to see the next government and the newly elected Parliament revitalize and advance the reform process with full determination and concrete results," Rehn said.
He also said Turkey, bitterly divided between secular nationalists and supporters of the pro-European AKP, which has roots in political Islam, required above all a "broad national consensus" in support of EU accession.
Seeking to assuage nationalist feelings, Rehn condemned a wave of Kurdish separatist attacks. Many Turks accuse the EU of encouraging Kurdish separatism by pressing for cultural and minority rights and seeking to shackle the power of the army.
"Rest assured, the EU is on your side in this struggle against terrorism," the commissioner said.
Neither speaker mentioned the election of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is adamantly opposed to Turkish EU entry, but both said the conference highlighted the geopolitical interdependence of Turkey and the EU in the key energy field.
"The strategic thinking behind the accession process remains more valid than ever," Rehn said, urging both sides to discuss strategic cooperation in areas such as energy more and to set aside the "existential debate" about Turkish membership.
Depicting Turkey as an anchor of stability in the wider Middle East as well as an energy hub between Central Asia and Europe, he urged Ankara to become a full member of a southeast European Energy Community.
"What better way to prove the skeptics wrong?" Rehn said.