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Turkey 'ready' to reform terror laws for EU visa deal

  • Turkish police in terrorist suspect raid in 2015 (Photo: Mahmut Bozarslan)

Turkey's crackdown on suspected Gulenists is winding down, leaving open the space for Ankara to reform its anti-terror laws as demanded by the EU, according to the country's ambassador to the EU.

The reform is among a set of EU benchmarks that must be met before lifting visa requirements for Turkish nationals seeking to travel to a member state.

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Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Saturday (3 February), Faruk Kaymakci, Turkey's ambassador to the EU, said Ankara could meet all the remaining benchmarks with relative ease.

"Visa liberalisation is a low-hanging fruit," he said, saying the demanded reforms could be sorted within a year.

"This is not a big thing for us, Ukraine can do that, Georgia can do that, why not Turkey? It is not a difficulty for us."

Other outstanding benchmarks include reforming data protection laws, which Kaymakci also said would not be difficult, although an agreement with the EU police agency, Europol, could take more time.

However, Kaymakci said any changes to amend the laws would depend on EU support. "The more the EU anchors, the more Turkey will reform," he said.

The move to lift visas from Turkish nationals gained momentum in early 2016 as part of a broader migrant swap deal with Anakara that sought to stem the flows of Syrian refugees into Greece.

The initial plan aimed to suspend the visas by the end of the same year but a failed military coup in July upended the schedule.

The ensuing state-orchestrated purge instead saw tens of thousands of people jailed and fired from their posts. Turkey says at least 43,000 have since returned their jobs.

"Now things are settled, investigations are mostly completed, everyone is basically checked, who might be a Gulenist, who is not Gulenist, those who claimed to be Gulenist, things are now settled," Kaymakci said.

Turkey claims followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen had managed to create a parallel state structure and is behind the failed military coup, a charge Gulen denies.

The issue has driven a wedge between EU and Ankara. Last October, Germany demanded the EU suspend funds that help finance Turkey's accession to the European Union.

Kaymakci said the EU intends to cut over €100 million a year up until 2020 from the so-called "instrument for pre-accessions assistance". The EU had budgeted €4.5 billion over 2014 to 2020.

Migration and money

The visa focus comes ahead of a possible EU-Turkey summit later this year and amid pressure for the EU to dole out more cash to help Syrian refugees in the country.

Turkey, which hosts over three million Syrians, is now demanding the EU shore up another €3 billion, for a total of €6 billion.

The money is part of the same migrant packaged deal agreed in 2016. At the time, the European commission said it would disperse two tranches of €3 billion. The second tranche, it noted, would be mobilised once the first €3 billion is close to spent.

But Turkey wants the money now, noting that the EU has only spent €1.8 billion. Most of that went to humanitarian projects of which a big chunk is going through Turkish government ministries.

"Out of this €3 billion, only a bit more than 20 percent is given to the ministry of education, ministry of health, and ministry of interior," said Kaymakci.

He said the plan for the second installment of EU funds would be geared towards integration and return of Syrian refugees, among other priorities.

"We have had more than 100,000 people returning to Syria and I am sure that after the liberation of Afrin from the YPG and Daesh, our estimate is at least 700,000 people will return," he said.

This article was updated at 16:42 on 5 February 2018 to include a statement from Kaymakci that anti-terror law reforms would also depend on greater EU support.

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