Thursday

23rd May 2019

Juncker warns Turkey over visas

Turkey will have to reform its anti-terrorism laws or the planned visa-free deal with the EU will fall apart, EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said.

Speaking at a conference in Berlin on Thursday (12 May), Juncker insisted that Ankara meet all EU 72 prerequisites before lifting short-stay travel restrictions on Turks.

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"We consider that it is important for these conditions to be fulfilled. Otherwise, this deal between the EU and Turkey will not happen," he said.

Turkey has met all but 5 of the 72 criteria. The EU commission wants Turkey to narrow the definition of its terrorism law.

"If Mr. Erdogan is pursuing a strategy of denying Turks the right to free travel to Europe then he has to answer for this to the Turkish people. This is not my problem, this will be his problem," Juncker said.

Despite the tough stand, an EU official in Brussels told reporters that the commission remained optimistic that Ankara will meet the outstanding issues before the end of June.

The EU wants to keep its migrant swap deal with Turkey in place given broader fears a large influx of migrants may arrive over the summer months.

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel said the migrant deal still needed to be defended "despite all the difficulties involved to negotiate it".

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has made repeated statements the anti-terrorism law won't be reformed given the recent surge in terrorist attacks.

Turkey's interior ministry on Wednesday said four suspected Kurdish rebels died in a blast when their explosives detonated prematurely.

Erdogan has also warned Ankara would scrap its migrant swap deal if visa waivers are not granted.

The original plan sought to lift the restrictions by the end of June but has now been pushed back to October at Erdogan's request.

Critics say the anti-terror law has an "overly broad" definition of terrorism and is used to jail journalists, academics and silence opposition.

Earlier this month, Erdogan ousted the pro-EU prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Constitution change, opposition muted

Fears are mounting he is putting in place an increasingly authoritarian regime with plans to amend the constitution, erode secularism in favour of political Islam, and lift immunity from opposition parliamentarians.

Next week plans are in place to amend the Turkish constitution with a temporary clause which could remove protection from prosecution from 129 of the Turkish Grand National Assembly's 550 deputies.

The change could affect lawmakers from all four parliamentary parties.

But critics say the change is targeted against MPs from the opposition parties, most notably against the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) where 46 out of 59 MPs would likely end up in jail.

The HDP represents groups like the the Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis, Alevies, and the Christians, among others.

The move could further inflame tensions with Turkey's largest minority, the Kurds.

Erdogan is 'No' joke

But Erdogan's sensitivity to overt criticism and satire is not limited to the home front.

In April, he pressured German chancellor Angela Merkel to allow authorities to launch an investigation against comedian Jan Boehmermann after he read an insulting poem.

He then pursued legal action against the CEO of German publishing house Axel Springer for defending Boehmermann.

The poem was then read aloud again on Wednesday in the German Bundestag to stunned onlookers by a MP from Merkel's own Christian Democratic Party (CDU).

EP stops work on Turkey visa waiver

The EU parliament has stopped all work on the commission's plan to lift visas for Turkish nationals. The move could spell the end of the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

Why Erdogan made a U-turn on EU visas

Turkish leader Erdogan needs to look and act tough on terror to cement power at home. Former PM Davutoglu, who brokered the EU visa deal, also taken down a peg.

Merkel casts doubt on Turkey visa-free travel

German chancellor after meeting with the Turkish president, said it was likely that conditions would not be met by 1 July as agreed in the EU-Turkey migrant deal.

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