Friday

18th Jan 2019

Turkey to EU: No visa-free, no clampdown on migrants

  • Bagis: Turkey is a 'hub of peace, a hub of energy, a hub of power' (Photo: orangejack)

Turkey is happy to sign a migrant readmission deal with the EU, but expects the Union to start talks on visa-free travel if it wants to see a clampdown on people sneaking into Greece, a senior diplomat has said.

Noting that the EU has lifted visa requirements for "remote countries," such as Paraguay and Uruguay, and started visa-free talks with Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, but not Turkey, Ankara's chief negotiator on EU accession, Egemen Bagis, said: "It's time to put an end to this nonsense."

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Speaking at a gathering of EU officials and diplomats at the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels on Thursday morning (27 January), Mr Bagis lambasted the EU for calling on Ankara to stem irregular migration from Africa and Asia while giving it nothing on visas.

"We're willing to help the EU, but it's also a matter of taxation," he said, referring Turkish tax income used to fund the anti-migrant operations. "When our citizens are insulted on a daily basis in the consulates of EU states [when they apply for visas], one may ask the question as to why we should help the EU with their problems, when we are treated this way. Turkey is not an emirate, public opinion does matter. We need to see some good will from the side of the EU."

Mr Bagis questioned the value of a Greek plan to build a 12km-long anti-migrant wall on its massive sea and land border with Turkey. "Greece can do whatever it wants on its territory, but there's also a whole Aegean Sea to take care of," he said.

He added that the EU is focusing too much on border security instead of tackling the top cause of irregular migration in source countries: poverty. "When people are desperate and hopeless in their own country, they will do anything to get out. If we stop them, they will go to Ukraine and Belarus. In the end, they will find a way to get into the EU," he said.

Mr Bagis noted that 70,000 people were detained in 2010 trying to get into the Union.

The EU and Turkey on Thursday agreed a common text on readmission of irregular migrants - a pre-condition for starting visa-free talks in future. "We'll sign the readmission agreement without having free travel into the EU first, but at least the European Commission should be given a mandate to start visa-free regime talks with Turkey," he noted.

The Turkish diplomat described his country as a "hub of peace, a hub of energy, a hub of power."

"When France was busy deporting Roma, we were organising a big conference and our Prime Minister publicly apologised for having ignored their problems for so long. We now have housing and education programs being put in place for them," he said.

He added that objections by some EU countries to Turkey's influence-building in the Middle East and Russia are hypocritical: "We're increasing trade relations with Iran, but France is increasing them even more. We do businesss with Russia, but so does Italy."

He also repeated Turkey's mantra that France, Germany, Greece and Cyprus are unfairly blocking EU accession talks.

With Turkish soldiers occupying the northern part of the divided island of Cyprus in a decades-long stand-off, Mr Bagis accused Cypriots of ill-will, citing the example of a Turkish basketball team which was bullied by Greek Cypriot supporters after a game in Cyprus. "This is not the mentality to reach a solution with," he said.

What Brussels thinks

EU officials privately see the Bagis rhetoric as a negotiating tactic. "Whenever you negotiate with the Turks, you get the feeling that they are trying to get one over on you," one commission contact said.

For her part, EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom favours a swift visa-free deal.

Earlier this month, she wrote in her blog: "The road to visa liberalisation is tough and filled with clear requirements and criterias, but other countries have succeeded and I see no reason why Turkey shouldn't be able to. It would also give us an important push forward in our co-operation."

In her official reaction to Thursday's readmission agreement, she said its upcoming signature, expected in February, will "open up new perspective" for visa-free talks.

In an insight into EU politicking on Turkey, a freshly leaked US cable shows the level of frustration with Cyprus among pro-Turkish EU countries. It is dated 2004, but remains relevant due to Cyprus' ongoing blockade of the Turkish accession process.

The dispatch cites senior Dutch officials as saying that Cyprus uses Turkey as a "card" in internal EU politics and urges the US to put the squeeze on Nicosia.

"What does Cyprus have these days, besides the Turkey card?" the Dutch officials - Rob Swartbol, Pieter de Gooijer and Hannie Pollmann-Zaal - told the US ambassador in The Hague. "Pollman hoped that powers outside the EU will pressure [then then Greek president] Popadopolous to support Turkish accession, using whatever psychological, political, or other means that might

work."

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