Turkey is now willing to accept the liberalisation of travel visa rules with the European Union by the end of the year instead of October, as previously targeted, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag wrote yesterday (4 September), citing senior Turkish government sources.
Ankara had threatened to walk away from an EU migrant deal should it not get more relaxed travel rules in October, but Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik downplayed that prospect on Saturday after a meeting with EU officials.
Welt am Sonntag quoted senior Turkish officials familiar with the EU talks as saying that a delay until November or December was now seen as acceptable. However, Turkish officials were still insisting on securing visa liberalisation “no later than the end of the year,” the newspaper said.
The newspaper also quoted EU sources as saying the two sides had narrowed their differences about implementation of Turkey’s anti-terror laws, which the EU has set as a condition for granting Turks visa-free movement, but gave no details.
The EU, which depends on Ankara to curb the flow of migrants into the bloc, is now seeking to ease tensions with Turkey after criticising President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan post-coup crackdown.
Celik said on Saturday Ankara would stick to the migration accord but it was “not rational” to expect Ankara to relax its counter-terrorism laws now as it fights Islamic State in neighbouring Syria and Kurdish militants on its own soil.
The EU worries Turkey applies its anti-terror laws too broadly in order to go after critics of Erdoğan.
Merkel upbeat on improving ties
German Chancellor Angela Merkel struck an upbeat tone after meeting Erdoğan on the sidelines of the G20 summit, and said she expected progress on two thorny issues that have marred German and European ties with Ankara.
Merkel said she was hopeful that the European Union and Turkey could resolve their differences over visa-free travel for Turks, but an agreement was likely still several weeks away.
“The discussions with the European Commission are very intensive and are continuing,” she said.
Merkel also said she expected a resolution in Germany’s dispute with Ankara over visits to an air base in Turkey. She and other German officials have insisted that Ankara must end its ban on German lawmaker visits to 250 German soldiers working at Incirlik Air Base as part of the US-led coalition’s air strikes against Islamist State targets.
“I believe it is possible that we will get positive news on the justified demand in the coming days,” the German leader told reporters after meeting with Erdoğan in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.
Turkey banned German lawmakers from visiting the base near the Syrian border in June after the parliament passed a resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a genocide. German lawmakers in turn threatened to end the military mission there.
Turkey accepts many Christian Armenians were killed but contests assertions that up to 1.5 million died, and denies the killings were orchestrated.
Rainer Arnold, defence spokesman for the Social Democrats in parliament, told Reuters earlier he expected Turkey to approve visit by lawmakers to the base next week.
Merkel said she and Erdoğan also agreed that the political process aimed at ending the fighting in Syria must be resumed since the situation in Aleppo was unacceptable and a ceasefire was urgently needed.