Turkey threatens to scrap refugee deal, again
By Eric Maurice
Turkey said on Thursday (25 August) that EU accession remained its "strategic aim”, but threatened, once again, to scrap the migrant deal with the EU if it does not quickly get visa liberalisation.
The two-sided message came a day after EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn asked Ankara to respect the rule of law in its post-putsch crackdown if it wanted to join the bloc.
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"The EU is still a strategic aim for us. There is no change," Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in Ankara in an apparent response.
He added that, for now, EU-Turkey relations were centred on three issues: Turkey’s agreement to take back irregular migrants from Greece; the EU’s agreement to resettle refugees from Turkey; and the visa-free process.
In March, as part of the migration deals, the EU said a visa-free regime would be granted by the end of June if Turkey met 72 criteria.
The deadline was then pushed back to October because the Turkish government has so far refused to change a law on terrorism which, the EU says, contains loose language that is used to silence government-critical media and academics.
Cavusoglu said on Thursday that "these agreements are connected to each other".
"We all should implement all three of these agreements. It is not right to say: 'Let's implement the deal that favours the EU, but not the one favourable to Turkey'. It is not fair," he said during a press conference with his Polish and Romanian counterparts, Witold Waszczykowski and Lazar Comanescu.
The European Commission is due to publish a report on Turkey’s implementation of the visa liberalisation criteria in September.
If there is no change in the Turkish counter-terrorism legislation, it will be difficult for the EU to grant the visa-free regime.
The same day, also in Ankara, Turkey’s Europe minister and the chief negotiator for his country’s EU accession, Omer Celik, added that Ankara expected a specific date for getting the visa-free perks.
"Unless a date is given for visa-free travel, we will not implement new mechanisms, such as the readmission deal," he said prior to a meeting with Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth.
Roth, whose country was the main architect of the EU-Turkey migration accords, said that Turks and Europeans "need to carry out this agreement step by step in cooperation”.
In an interview with Turkish daily Hurriyet before the meeting, Roth also said that "conditions to be fulfilled for the visa exemption have been definite for a long time" and that the “last remaining issues must be resolved".
He also said that Germany would not "accept any halt in EU negotiations," as suggested by Austria, because he felt "responsible to those who defend European values in Turkey".
"Critical questions are posed in Europe. That should be understood," he said, referring to concerns about the scale of the post-coup crackdown on judges, civil servants, journalists and academics.
European critics of the crackdown were dismissed by the foreign minister, Cavusoglu, however, who accused some EU member states of having "failed to pass the test when it comes to defending democracy" in their own countries.