European Parliament President Martin Schulz has accused Turkey of not keeping it promise to reform anti-terrorist laws and warned that Europe could harden its stance on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.
In an interview with German newspaper ‘Die Welt’, Schulz said he expected to see Turkey move forward with the deal to usher in reforms on the anti-terrorist law and on the protection of personal data.
Brussels has promised Turks visa-free travel into Europe in return for stopping the flow of illegal migrants to the bloc, after more than a million entered the EU from Turkey last year. While Europe is desperate for the deal to work, it also insists Ankara meet 72 criteria, including narrowing the scope of its broad anti-terrorism laws to meet European standards.
But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has been resistant.
“The talks should begin immediately in the Turkish parliament,” Schulz was quoted as saying. “If not, then the European institutions will not be able to fulfill the roadmap by October,” he added, referring to the deal on visa-free travel.
He also referred to threats by Erdogan to ditch the deal with the EU, saying if this transpired, it would only make Europe more determined in demanding that all of the criteria set for Ankara be met.
“Threats are not the appropriate tool in politics,” said Schulz. “They will not impress the Europeans. It will be the opposite. We will remain steadfast that one hundred per cent of the 72 conditions be met.”
Only when Ankara amends its anti-terrorism legislation would the European Parliament forward the draft legislation from the European Commission to the relevant committee, he added.
Rights groups and some European officials say Turkey uses the anti-terror laws to stifle dissent, prosecuting academics and journalists for expressing peaceful opinions, while Erdogan says Turkey needs its legislation to fight Kurdish insurgents and Islamic State.
The European Commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans said on Friday on Twitter after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik that they shared a “joint determination to overcome last remaining obstacles to visa liberalisation”.
The disagreement has threatened the future of the migrant deal and put pressure on Ankara’s relationship with the bloc. Erdogan, who spearheaded Turkey’s drive for EU candidacy, has threatened it could go its own way if Europe failed to agree.
Turkish foreign ministry officials confirmed that officials from Ankara would meet with their European counterparts next week to determine a roadmap on visa liberalisation.
Wrangling over the anti-terrorism law has cast doubt on whether the end-June target date for the visa deal can still be met. Officials and diplomats told Reuters the deadline looked likely to be missed, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after talks with Erdogan that it may take longer but she was confident both sides would stick to the migrant pact.
Other sticking points remain, including over a data protection law and the creation of an independent data protection authority.
Keeping the migration accord on track is a key priority for several EU member states, especially the bloc’s biggest power, Germany, which took in most of the 1.3 million refugees and migrants who reached Europe last year.