Migrant deal off if no visa-free travel, Turkey warns EU

  • PTI, Antalya
  • Updated: May 30, 2016 14:59 IST
Migrants disembark from the Italian Navy vessel Vega at the Reggio Calabria harbour, southern Italy. (REUTERS)

Ankara will abandon a deal with the European Union to reduce migrant flows if its citizens are not granted visa-free travel to most of the bloc, Turkey’s foreign minister has warned.

With the two sides locked in an increasingly-bitter standoff, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “impossible” for Ankara to change anti-terror laws that Brussels wants to see narrowed in exchange for the visa-free travel to the Schengen zone.

“We have told them ‘we are not threatening you’ but there’s a reality. We have signed two deals with you (the EU) and both are interlinked,” Cavusoglu told a small group of journalists, including AFP, at the southern holiday resort of Antalya.

“This is not a threat but what is required from an agreement,” he said.

Building on a threat by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, Cavusoglu said Turkey would use “administrative” measures to block the deal if needed.

There have been growing concerns that Turkish nationals will not be given visa-free travel by the end of June, the target date, putting the future of the migrant deal at risk.

EU leaders are insisting that Turkey meet 72 conditions before the visa exemption is approved, including narrowing its definition of terror to stop prosecuting academics and journalists for “terror propaganda”.

“Which definition are you talking about? Each country in Europe has different terror definitions,” the minister said, pointing to stringent measures in France.

Cavusoglu said Turkey was currently battling “more than one terrorist group” including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“In such a circumstance, it is impossible to change terror laws.”

Despite the increasingly-acrimonious picture, diplomatic efforts will be stepped up in the coming weeks to overcome the visa-hurdle, the minister said.

In the coming days, there will be expert-level talks between Turkey and the EU followed by a possible leaders summit involving Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials, the minister said.

“We’ll finalise the deal and make it ready before the EU Council meeting on July 7-8. We have the determination.” (AFP) AYP

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