German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU isn't currently on the agenda. European leaders have balked at such concessions after Turkey's post-coup crackdown.
Lifting travel restrictions for Turks in the EU bloc would only be considered "when the associated conditions are met," Foreign Minister Steinmeier told Germany's mass circulation "Bild" newspaper on Tuesday.
"This is currently not the case," he added.
In March, the EU and Turkey struck a deal to curb a record influx of migrant arrivals in Europe. Under the plan, Turkey agreed to take back Syrian migrants arriving in Greece who did not meet EU requirements for asylum staus. In return, Ankara was promised financial compensation, accelerated talks on EU membership, and a visa-free regime for Turks.
Turkey must meet 72 conditions as part of the agreement, including a reform of its anti-terror laws, which are seen by the EU as violating international conventions on human rights. European leaders have also raised concerns over the scale of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on suspected dissidents after last month's failed putsch. Around 19,000 people from civil society institutions were arrested during the post-coup purge.
Criticize with caution
In his interview with "Bild," Steinmeier warned against excessive criticism of political developments in Turkey following the July 15 attempted coup.
"We have made it clear from the beginning what our view is on the arrests of teachers, judges and journalists," Steinmeier said. "But with all the justified criticism of the measures in Turkey, we also have to realize - and this has been downplayed in the debate in Germany - that those who carried out the coup did so with the utmost brutality against civilians and against the parliament."
During talks in Ankara on Monday, German State Secretary Markus Ederer offered Germany's solidarity to Turkey and told journalists it would have been a "disaster" for Turkey and the region had the coup succeeded. The diplomat also urged for the rule of law to be respected in dealing with suspected putchists.
Following the crackdown, EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger said he did not see the EU granting Turkish citizens visa-free travel anytime this year. Ankara says it has lived up to its side of the migrant bargain, and has threatened to back out of the agreement if there's no progress on the visa waiver front by October.
Cemile Giousouf, integration commissioner for Germany's Christian Democratic Union, said the deal was vital to saving the lives of migrants, and called for the visa pledge to be honored once Turkey meets the conditions.
"The visa liberalization is linked to the Refugee Convention. It's not about helping the Turkish government, but about helping the refugees," she told the "Welt" newspaper on Tuesday.
nm/kl (Reuters, AFP, dpa)