An adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened that if the European Parliament votes against lifting the visa requirement for Turkish citizens, his country would send refugees on its territory to the European Union.
“The European Parliament will discuss the report that will open Europe visa-free for Turkish citizens. If the wrong decision is taken, we will send the refugees,” Burhan Kuzu, an adviser to Erdoğan, wrote on Twitter.
The threat is not new, but this time it’s addressed to the European Parliament which made it clear that Turkey should not expect a visa waiver if it has not fulfilled all the requirements for the visa liberalisation deal.
The visa deal depends on the ratification by the European Parliament, and of some national parliaments, who would also like to have their say.
The refugee deal is facing “a very dangerous moment” as the two sides wrangle over Ankara’s fulfilment of its terms, a Turkish minister warned yesterday (11 May).
“All the agreements we have achieved until now, built on confidence, goodwill, taking responsibilities, and also taking political risks, is facing a very dangerous moment,” Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır said at a news conference with European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
Bozkır said Turkey had basically fulfilled the terms of the deal, even though Brussels is insisting Ankara meet five more benchmarks before Turkish nationals can enjoy visa-free travel to Europe.
“This not a mathematics problem. This is a political problem,” Bozkır said of the five benchmarks during a visit to the European parliament in the French city of Strasbourg.
The five benchmarks still to be met by Turkey concern passing measures to prevent corruption, aligning its legislation by the EU on data protection, concluding an agreement with Europol, agreeing to work with all EU members on criminal matters, and bringing the country’s definition of terrorism in line with EU standards.
“Our interpretation is that we have fulfilled our expectations sufficiently enough,” he added.
Bozkır reiterated Erdoğan’s opposition to changing Turkey’s anti-terror legislation, which the EU says is one of the five outstanding benchmarks left from a list of 72.
It would be “completely impossible” for Turkey to change the anti-terrorism law which is “relevant to European standards”, he said.
Must do more
With Turkey in the throes of a major campaign against Kurdish militants, Ankara has said it does not have the luxury of being able to change its anti-terror laws, but analysts have warned that the problem risks blocking the deal with the EU.
Speaking to the European Parliament, European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said that Turkey had “made really substantial progress in fulfilling the visa liberalisation roadmap” but must take further steps.
Turkey, he said, must do more to fight corruption, align personal data protection laws with EU standards and conclude an operational cooperation agreement with Europol, the EU law enforcement agency.
He also said it must offer “effective judicial cooperation in criminal matters to all member states” and “better align” its counter-terror laws and practices with EU standards.
Avramopoulos said that the overall migrant deal had already led to a “clear reduction” of irregular migrant arrivals to Greece from 6,000 a day in October last year to a daily figure of around 140 in April.
Most of the 1.25 million Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans who have entered the bloc since last year travelled from Turkey to Greece on rickety boats, across the Aegean.
Dutch defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert for the Council recalled that the 18 March statement accelerated an existing process, following a roadmap approved in 2013. "It is not just a present to President Erdogan or a concession, but something from which we all will benefit, millions of European tourists and millions of Turks, including human rights activists." She nonetheless recognized that "Turkey has a lot of homework to do." The Council working party on visas had begun its legislative work on the Commission proposal that morning, she reported.
Mariya Gabriel (EPP, BG) voiced her group’s support for the 18 March agreement, but said that Turkey must meet all criteria for visa liberalisation before Parliament's vote. "We need to take time to finalise details, examine the Council's position and have safeguard mechanisms in place", she said.
Tania Fajon (S&D, SL) said that the EU should not make promises without ensuring that all its requirements are fulfilled. The antiterrorist legislation and data protection issues, among others, need to be dealt with," she added, warning that “we can´t allow exceptions, because that will have a boomerang effect.”
Helga Stevens (ECR, BE) said that conditions for Turkey should be especially stringent, it being a candidate member state, without any double standards. She felt "ashamed of the irresponsible behaviour of the Commission towards a dictator."
The criteria for visa exemption must be fulfilled, insisted Sophie in ´t Veld (ALDE, NL). Europe is “being subjected to President Erdogan's blackmail, because we are weak and divided”. She regretted that EU leaders “make deals with dictators” instead of agreeing a common European refugee policy.
Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL, FR) said that President Erdogan aims to campaign for and install an authoritarian regime." I'm in favour of visa liberalisation but not on any condition and not by closing our eyes to what is actually going on in Turkey", she concluded.
Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, DE) pointed to a growing number of democratic and human rights violations in Turkey and said that the EU must not depend on Turkey, but take responsibility, together with the UN, to find solutions to the refugee crisis. "It is a mistake to mix refugee strategy and neighbourhood policy", she added.
Fabio Massimo Castaldo (EFDD, IT) criticised the “illegal agreement” between the EU and Turkey and warned that President Erdogan "cannot be our friend”.
Marine Le Pen (ENF, FR) described the idea of giving visa-free access to Turks as “absolutely crazy”, adding that President Erdogan was using migration as a weapon against the EU.