The European Union told Turkey today (16 February) it would not ease travel requirements for its citizens unless Ankara softens counter-terrorism laws that the bloc says are excessive.
The EU has been taken aback by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security crackdown following a botched coup in 2016 that saw some 50,000 people, including journalists, arrested and 150,000 more, from teachers to judges to soldiers, sacked or suspended from their jobs.
That has soured the bloc’s relations with its NATO ally that is also instrumental in keeping a lid on Middle East immigration to Europe.
Turkey has been seeking to mend ties, telling the EU this month it had met all criteria for visa-free travel to the bloc.
Erdoğan will meet European Council chief Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna on 26 March. Lifting the visa requirement for Turkish nationals is expected to feature among the issues discussed.
But Belgium Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Ankara must first ease its terrorism laws, which Turkey has long declined to do. Turkey says it needs them, given the severity of security threats it faces on its own soil and in the region.
“If it is possible to align the legislation with the values of the European Union, it will be possible to make some progress,” Reynders said on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting joined by Turkey’s EU minister, Ömer Çelik.
“The link is this – a real evolution in Turkey in the legislation on terrorism and the possibility to move on the visas.”
The EU suspended Turkey’s long-stalled membership talks last year over democracy concerns under Erdoğan and his jibes at some of the bloc’s members. But next month it is expected to offer Ankara more money for hosting Syrian refugees.
The EU’s top enlargement official, Johannes Hahn, said the bloc’s executive European Commission in Brussels was analysing the Turkish visa documents.
“Turkey understands that in principle Europe is the most reliable and predictable neighbour they have, and they are well advised to have a good relationship,” he told reporters. “There are some signals but when it comes to issues of rule of law, the situation is still not satisfactory.”
Çelik, who did not speak to journalists on arriving for the talks, will also discuss with the EU ministers Turkey’s latest military intervention in the Syrian province of Afrin, which the bloc has expressed concern about.
Erdoğan on Thursday hosted the top US diplomat, Rex Tillerson, in a bid to ease the latest tensions between the two over their policies in the multi-sided war in Syria.
Turkey frees journalist
German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, who was detained in Turkey a year ago, has been released from jail, German newspaper Die Welt reported today, citing his lawyer.
— dwnews (@dwnews) February 16, 2018
The German Foreign Ministry confirmed his release, and a spokesperson said that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has welcomed the move.
Yücel, a reporter for Die Welt, was jailed on suspicion of spreading propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting violence. He denied the accusations and no indictment was made.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday demanded a fast and fair judicial process to secure the release of Yücel.