German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday he did not see Turkey joining the EU during his political career, adding that the bloc would not be in a position to take Turkey in even if Ankara met all the entry requirements tomorrow.
Turkey started talks about joining the European Union in 2005 but has made little progress despite an initial burst of reforms.
Many EU countries are wary about the possibility of the large, mainly Muslim country becoming a member of the bloc and Europe has long worried that Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws are used to quash dissent.
A crackdown since a failed July 15 coup in Turkey has fueled tension between Ankara and Brussels.
“Even if you’re very optimistic about my political career, I certainly won’t see Turkey becoming a member of this EU,” Gabriel, 56, told a news conference on Sunday.
“With the state we’re in, we’re not even in a position to take in a city state,” said Gabriel, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) – the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
He said one logistical problem was Turkey’s large population, which stands at about 79 million according to the World Bank.
“How would that work in a European Union that is currently losing one of its most important member states, that has been rattled, that doesn’t know how it should reorganise itself?,” he added, referring to Britain’s recent vote to leave the bloc.
He said Turkey might instead, in the distant future, become a partner “in an outer ring” of a changed EU.
Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his government could stop helping to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe if Brussels failed to relax travel rules for Turks from October.
Visa-free access to the EU — the main reward for Ankara’s collaboration in choking off the influx of migrants — has been subject to delays due to a dispute over the anti-terrorism legislation, as well as the post-coup crackdown.
Gabriel said in an interview on Saturday that Merkel’s conservatives had “underestimated” the challenge of integrating record migrant arrivals.