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Turkey threatens to halt EU migrant deal

August 9, 2016

Turkey has threatened to stop implementing a deal with the EU designed to stem the flow of refugees. Several Turkish politicians have said that the EU is failing to provide a set date to grant visa-free travel to Turks.

Türkei EU Flaggen Symbolbild
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Bozoglu

In an interview with Turkey's Habertürk television, Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Ömer Celik said that Europe would endanger its own security by refusing visa-free travel to Turkish citizens, as Turkey would then annul its refugee agreement with the EU. This would allow refugees to arrive in Europe without undergoing any checks and clearances, he said.

Ömer Celik
Turkish EU Affairs Minister Ömer Celik said Europe's security would be at risk without Turkey's helpImage: Imago/Itar-Tass

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, also said in an interview with the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," that Ankara could withdraw from the accord if Europe failed to allow visa-free travel for Turks by October. But the EU says it wants Turkey to change its anti-terrorism laws to meet European standards first before enacting any changes to its visa policies.

Turkey rejects those demands, and has instead arrested dozens of journalists under its anti-terror laws since the July 15 coup attempt in the country. More than 60,000 people working in the military, judiciary, civil service and education sectors have also been dismissed, detained or are currently under investigation since the clampdown following the failed coup.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that the prospect of Turkey's EU accession needs to be acceleratedImage: Reuters/O. Orsal

Mutual distrust

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile accused the European Union of dragging its feet on the issue of visa-free travel, as well as in releasing EU funds allocated for Turkey to deal with the stem of refugees. Ankara had originally been promised visa-free travel for its citizens as well as accelerated negotiations for EU membership - in addition to 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in funds to help cope with the 3 million asylum-seekers already in Turkey.

In return, Turkey would stop refugees from embarking on dangerous sea journeys to Europe, while taking back illegal migrants from Greece in exchange for ones registered in Turkish camps. However, Turkey accused Brussels of failing to stick to its side of the bargain, threatening to pull out of the deal altogether.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, told the Austrian daily newspaper "Kurier" that Erdogan had "already hinted several times that he wants to scrap it." If that happens, Juncker added, "then we can expect migrants to start coming to Europe again."

Federica Mogherini
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that there's no hope of Turkey joining the EU if it reintroduces the death penaltyImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Huguen

Disagreement on death penalty

Erdogan has meanwhile also caused uproar and concern by suggesting Turkey might reinstate the death penalty to punish the coup plotters.

Turkey had abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of its efforts to join the EU.

High representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, however said that no country could "become an EU state if it introduces the death penalty." Germany's Social Democrat chairman Sigmar Gabriel also said that Turkey's EU accession was still decades off - without even specifying the issue of capital punishment as a main hindrance.

Erdogan continues to insist that he is merely reacting to popular demand.

Other problems like the divided island of Cyprus make Turkish EU accession highly unlikely even in the medium term, considering that EU member Cyprus could veto the move.

The Q&A on refugee summit

ss/msh (Reuters, AFP)