Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Greek 'wall' is negative symbol, Turkey says

Turkey's EU affairs minister has described the Greek anti-migrant fence as a symbol of division between the Union and outside countries.

Alluding to the Berlin wall, which used to separate western Europe from the Soviet bloc, Egemen Bagis told EUobserver on Wednesday (8 February): "It is not the time to talk about new walls in Europe - we need to talk about new bridges. Europe paid the cost of walls in the recent past and ... everyone should work to build new bridges between different views, different cultures and different countries [instead]."

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He added that "Turkey is a bridge between east and west" and that the Islamic country's EU membership would "symbolise an alliance of civilizations."

Greece this week began construction of a razor-wire barrier on its 13-km-long land border with Turkey.

The fence is designed to deter the thousands of people from Asia and north Africa who come each month to seek asylum in the Union.

The European Commission has described it as "pointless." A Brussels-based NGO, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, said it would be a "tragedy" if it keeps out people fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria.

The Turkish minister's remarks come in the context of prickly EU-Turkey relations - accession talks stopped over a year ago and the EU refuses to start negotiations on visa-free travel.

"The citizens of Belize, Paraguay, the 190 million citizens of Brazil, or the citizens of Malaysia - with all due respect to them - can travel to the [EU passport-free] Schengen zone without a visa, but my citizens have to wait in line ... it is not correct," he noted.

The EU says it will start visa talks only if Turkey signs a pact on taking back illegal migrants.

Bagis said the visa talks must come first: "Turkey is ready to initial the readmission agreement if the EU Council authorises the commission to launch visa facilitation talks leading to visa liberalisation."

Greece is one of the main opponents of Turkey's EU entry due to its occupation of northern Cyprus.

Bagis described Greece and Turkey as being "very close friends." But he highlighted that Turkey is enjoying an economic boom even as Greece faces ruin.

"I was in Athens for a short holiday last month and I saw that Greece needs the active support of its friends as it struggles with the impact of the financial crisis. Turkey is among those countries that can help," he noted.

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