Turkey could put EU talks to a referendum next year: Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during his meeting with mukhtars at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, October 26, 2016. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey could hold a referendum on whether to continue membership talks with the European Union next year, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, and repeated his warning to Brussels that it needed to “make up its mind” on Turkish accession.

European Union foreign ministers were meeting on Monday to consider shelving membership talks with Turkey over what they see as its lurch away from democracy after a failed coup in July, although there is no consensus for such a move.

In a speech in Ankara broadcast live on television, Erdogan urged Turks to be patient until the end of the year and then said a vote could be held on EU membership.

“Let’s wait until the end of the year and then go to the people. Let’s go to the people since they will make the final call. Even Britain went to the people. Britain said ‘let’s exit’, and they left,” Erdogan said.

He lambasted European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who said this month the detention of opposition politicians and the extent of post-coup purges “call into question the basis for the sustainable relationship between the EU and Turkey”.

“What are you? Since when do you have the authority to decide for Turkey? How can you, who have not taken Turkey into the EU for 53 years, find the authority to make such a decision?” Erdogan said.

“This people makes its own decisions, cuts its own umbilical cord,” he said.

Erdogan also said he would approve reinstating the death penalty - a move that would likely end any hope of Turkish membership in the EU - if parliament passed a law on it, and said that too could be part of a referendum.

Turkey is expected to hold a national vote on constitutional changes next spring, including boosting the powers of Erdogan’s office to create a Turkish version of the presidential system in the United States or France.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and David Dolan