The EU-Turkey refugee deal has hit a wall.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday that the landmark deal between the EU and Turkey would collapse unless Ankara made the agreed upon changes to its anti-terror laws, which critics say are used to persecute dissenters, Reuters reports.
The agreement between Europe and Turkey, which involves added security measures, cash to support asylum seekers in Turkey, and deporting refugees from the Greek islands to Turkey, aims to stop irregular crossings to Europe.
However, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says that the EU is introducing new hurdles to the deal. He claims that Turkey had already agreed with the EU on visa-free travel for Turkish nationals before the bloc required it to meet a set of criteria, which include changing its anti-terror laws.
Ankara’s minister for EU affairs also said on Thursday that Turkey has fulfilled the required criteria for visa-free travel to Europe, adding that postponing the deal unfairly was unacceptable, according to Reuters.
This effectively leaves the deal in a deadlock and could lead to a renewed rush of refugees toward the European Union, should the deal fall apart.
European ministers have been worried about this possibility for a while and have been planning for an alternative way to deal with the masses of migrants coming into the bloc, should the deal falter.
Juncker insisted that the criteria on anti-terror laws needed to be met to enable visa-liberalisation. “We are counting on this, we agreed this with the Turkish government and it can’t be that the exit of the prime minister leads to agreements between the EU and Turkey being ignored,” he said, referring to the departure of Ahmet Davutoglu.
“We put great value in the conditions being met. Otherwise, this deal, the agreement between the EU and Turkey, won’t happen. If Mr Erdogan decides to deny Turks the right to free travel to Europe, then he must explain this to the Turkish people. It will not be my problem, it will be his problem,” Reuters reports.
Erdogan said in a speech he would prefer to build a “new Turkey” with the EU and is waiting for it to approve visa-liberalisation and has ruled out changing its counter-terrorism laws at a time the army is battling Kurdish and Islamic State militants.
Ian Bremmer, the President of the Eurasia group told Business Insider in an email that following the resignation of Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu, “Erdogan immediately signalled his unwillingness to abide by the terms of the deal, saying Turkey’s anti-terror laws were immutable.”
“The Europeans weren’t ever going to find Turkey’s compromises sufficient to drive an ultimate political deal in any case, but… there was plenty of political willingness to paper over differences and delay an eventual parting of ways for as long as possible, to at least keep existing refugees in place,” Bremmer said, “That’s no longer plausible, and the flows from Turkey are likely to ramp up again almost immediately.”
Despite the hurdles, the EU Commission said on Thursday that the deal was not “dead,” and that Brussels was still working toward granting Turkey visa-free travel to Europe,
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told Reuters.
European Commissioner for Migrantion, Dimitris Avramopoulos, also said that Turkey still needed to make progress, but said he was “optimistic” that Ankara would “give a final push” to the necessary reforms by the end of June and added that the EU was not “not watering down [our] standards.”
Turkish minister for EU affairs, Volkan Bozkir, reiterate that Turkey would not change its counter-terrorism laws. “We want the process to continue but it would be unacceptable for Turkey if it is postponed in an unfair fashion,” Bozkir told a news conference in Strasbourg broadcast live on Turkish television.
Ankara has repeatedly said that without visa liberalisation, there will be no migrant deal and has threatened the European Union to stick to its part of the deal.
Bozkir said Turkey’s next steps would be decided in line with instructions from Erdogan, who last week told the European Union: “We’re going our way, you go yours.”
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