Head of the European Parliament Martin Schulz has told Turkey on a visit to Ankara that the EU still wants to see changes to Turkey's anti-terrorism laws. But failure to do so is not a deal breaker, he said.
"The EU is a key partner of Turkey and Turkey is a key partner for the EU. We are all committed to continue strengthening and deepening this partnership in all its aspects," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told journalists in Ankara after talks with Europe Minister Omer Celik.
Turkey has criticized its European counterparts for not visiting following the events of July 15, when members of the armed forces sought to overthrow the government, leading to the death of more than 260 people.
"Now more than ever, the EU and Turkey have to remain close partners in order to provide much-needed stability and prosperity," Avramopoulos added. "Today, from here, we send a very strong signal of solidarity, friendship and commitment."
"Since March, Turkey has made considerable progress," Avramopoulos said. "But there are still outstanding benchmarks to be met. And the EU is fully committed to help Turkey achieve those," he added.
Schulz reiterated that the EU wants to see changes to Turkey's anti-terrorism law, which it considers too harsh. However, differences over the issue do not mean a deal to grant Turkish citizens visa-free access to Europe will fail, he added. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (pictured above (R) with Schulz) said he had made clear to Schulz that Turkey could not ease its anti-terrorism laws.
After the horse has bolted
Schulz, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter after arriving in Ankara that he would "directly convey a message of solidarity and support for Turkish democracy."
"My visit aims to pay tribute to all the Turkish citizens who courageously took to the streets to defend democracy in the country," he said ahead of his trip, in reference to the attempted military takeover.
"I also aim to set the political dialogue on the right footing once again," Schulz said, noting that Turkey is a strategic EU partner, before meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Yildirim, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and members of the four groups in the Turkish parliament.
Turkey has long waited for EU membership. The country has had the status of an associate member at the Economic Community - the predecessor of the EU since 1963.
Refugees a stumbling block
Erdogan, meanwhile, has said that if the EU doesn't cancel visa regime with Turkey in mid-October, Ankara won't be able to receive illegal migrants from the bloc, adding that the EU still has not paid $3 billion allocated for maintenance of refugees.
The Heads of State and the EU Member States' governments agreed with Turkey upon a joint plan to combat the migration crisis in mid-March. The program focuses on the return of illegal immigrants arriving from Greece to Turkey and accepting legal Syrian refugees in Turkey by the EU based principle of "one for one."
Turkey has played a significant role in regional issues such as the war in neighboring Syria, recently launching a cross-border ground offensive for the first time.
A beeline to Ankara
Schulz's trip follows visits to Turkey by US Vice President Joe Biden, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak in recent weeks.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the commissioner in charge of EU accession, are expected in Ankara on September 9 for talks with Celik.
Currently, there are more than two million Syrian refugees in the territory of Turkey. Approximately 300,000 of them live in the camps and the rest are scattered over the Turkish provinces. Istanbul alone hosts 40,000 refugees from Syria.
jbh/kms (AP, dpa)