Turkey to back out of EU migrant deal if no visa-free travel

A staff adjusts European Union and Turkish flags ahead of the arrival of Turkey's PM Erdogan at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels. [Reuters]

Turkey would have to back out of its agreement with the European Union to stem the flow of migrants into the bloc if the EU does not deliver visa-free travel for Turks, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said.

Visa-free access to the EU – the main reward for Ankara’s collaboration in choking off an influx of migrants into Europe – has been subject to delays due to a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism legislation and Ankara’s crackdown after a failed coup.

Cavusoglu told Germany’s daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in an interview to be published today (1 August), the agreement on stemming the refugee flow had worked because of “very serious measures” taken by Ankara.

“But all that is dependent on the cancellation of the visa requirement for our citizens, which is also an item in the agreement of 18 March,” Cavusoglu said in a release in advance of comments to be published in the newspaper’s Monday edition.

“If visa liberalisation does not follow, we will be forced to back away from the deal on taking back (refugees) and the agreement of 18 March,” he said, adding that the Turkish government was waiting for a precise date for visa liberalisation. “It could be the beginning or middle of October – but we are waiting for a firm date.”

The Commission told Italian press agency ANSA that the priority is, and remains, to ensure continued and full implementation of the EU-Turkey statement.

“We expect the same from our Turkish partners. For our part, the Commission has continued to respect and accelerate the implementation of our commitments under the Statement over the past months. With the special measures adopted last week for example, we have already mobilised €2 out of €3 billion from the Facility for Refugees in Turkey,” a spokesman said.

Erdogan starts dispute over migrant deal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday (25 July) accused the EU of not paying its way under a deal to send Syrian refugees back across the Aegean.

On the remaining benchmarks of the visa liberalisation roadmap, the Commission  insisted it continues to provide support and expertise to the Turkish authorities to accelerate the reforms needed in order to fulfil the remaining requirements.

“Turkey has committed to meeting the benchmarks to allow for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and we expect them to live up to that commitment. The final timing for visa-free travel will depend on both when Turkey completes work on the remaining benchmarks and when the co-legislators ultimately take their decision,” the Commission stated.

The Commission has put a proposal on the table which opens the way for the European Parliament and the Member States to decide to lift visa requirements, once the benchmarks have been met.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been very clear on numerous occasions that if Turkey wants visa liberalisation the benchmarks must be met. 

European Commissioner Günther Oettinger said recently he did not see the EU granting Turks visa-free travel this year due to Ankara’s crackdown after the failed military coup in mid-July.

The European Commission told EURACTIV last week that the numbers of refugees attempting the perilous crossing of the Aegean is continuing to drop. The EU-Turkey refugee deal agreed in March has significantly reduced migration flows into Greece, they said.

Under the terms of the deal, Turkey accepts Syrian and other refugees back from Greece in return for aid and accelerated talks on EU membership.

Since the failed 15 July coup attempt, increased numbers of new arrivals have been recorded from across the Aegean Sea, according to Greek coastguard sources.

Turkish coup ‘increases’ migration flows to Greece

Migration flows from Turkey to Greece have intensified since the failed coup attempt in Ankara, according to official Greek data.

Tensions as tens of thousands rally for Erdoğan in Germany

Tens of thousands of supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rallied in the German city of Cologne on Sunday as tensions over Turkey’s failed coup put authorities on edge.

Waving the Turkish flag and chanting “Turkey”, the demonstrators turned the rally site next to the River Rhine into a sea of red as they began the demonstration by singing the Turkish and German national anthems. Some held banners saying “Erdoğan, fighting for liberty”.

“We are here because our compatriots in Germany are standing up for democracy and against the attempted military coup in Turkey,” said Turkey’s Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic at the rally, Tagesspiegel reported.

“The message to be sent from the event is that in Turkey, all parties and NGOs want to stand together against the coup and to defend democracy,” added the minister, who was born in Germany.

Police said the gathering, organised by groups including the pro-Erdoğan Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD), assembled a crowd estimated at 40,000.

Since the attempted July 15 power grab, Erdoğan‘s government has launched a huge crackdown, detaining almost 19,000 people and sparking international concern.

Ratcheting up its clampdown on the military, Ankara on Sunday dismissed nearly 1,400 military personnel, including a top aide to Erdoğan, and confirmed it would close military schools and academies.

S&D Vice-President Knut Fleckenstein, said: "Our position is very clear - we support visa liberalisation for all countries that fulfil the relevant benchmarks. This is the case for Turkish citizens as it is for citizens of any other country. However, in reaction to the recent coup attempt Turkey is moving in the wrong direction. We will not be blackmailed into accepting visa liberalisation by an increasingly autocratic regime in Ankara.
"Although Turkey is an important partner in solving the refugee crisis, the only lasting solution will be a common European one. The Council must now prepare for the situation that Turkey pulls it support for the refugee deal and be ready with a credible alternative plan.
"The EU must continue to push Turkey to respect fundamental human rights and the rule of law. Turkish citizens must understand that if they want visa liberalisation then it is up to their government to act and meet the necessary requirements. We will not accept it any other way."

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