EU refugee deal with Turkey faces obstacle

Ankara says anti-terrorism law cannot be changed despite being crucial to accord

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz (right), and Turkey’s minister of EU affairs Volkan Bozkir  after a meeting at the European Parliament. Photograph: AFP Photo/Patrick Hertzog

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz (right), and Turkey’s minister of EU affairs Volkan Bozkir after a meeting at the European Parliament. Photograph: AFP Photo/Patrick Hertzog

 

The European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey was looking increasingly fragile yesterday after Turkey said it was “impossible” to change its anti-terrorism law, a key EU condition for granting visa-free travel to Turkey.

Speaking in Strasbourg following a meeting with European Parliament president Martin Schulz, Turkey’s minister for European affairs Volkan Bozkir said that the Turkish government would not change its anti-terrorism law as demanded by the European Commission. Noting that more than 450 security officers had been killed by PKK militants, he said “this change in anti-terror law is completely impossible, plus we believe our law is relevant to European standards.”

The commission last week gave the green light to grant visa-free travel to Turkey by June, subject to approval by the European Council and European Parliament, provided Turkey met five outstanding criteria, including controversial anti-terrorism legislation. While Turkey has argued that it needs the laws to deal with ongoing tensions with Kurdish militants, human rights groups say the legislation is also used to suppress dissent.

The granting of visa-free travel to Turkey’s 79 million citizens is one of the most controversial aspects of the EU-Turkey migration deal agreed in March, with critics accusing the EU of ignoring Turkey’s failings on human rights and democracy in order to secure Ankara’s help with stopping the inflow of refugees into Europe.

Sending back refugees

The controversial EU-Turkey deal received a setback last week with the resignation of Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was closely involved in negotiating the German-led deal credited with reducing migrants entering the EU through Turkey.

The announcement Mr Davutoglu was stepping down was widely seen as a sign of Mr Erdogan’s tightening grip on political power in Turkey. In a fiery speech on Friday, the Turkish president said he would not change the country’s anti-terror laws, telling the EU “we’re going our way, you go yours”.

The meeting between Mr Bozkir and Mr Schulz took place as the European Parliament president confirmed he had halted work on the Turkey visa scheme last week, arguing the parliament would only begin work when all 72 conditions of the visa waiver scheme were met.

Civil liberties

German MEP Birgit Sippel, spokeswoman on migration for the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group, said if Turkish citizens want visa liberalisation “then it’s up to their government to act”.

“Our position is very clear – we support visa liberalisation for all countries that fulfil the relevant criteria. This is the case for Turkish citizens as it is for citizens of any other country. However, we will not bend these rules just to try and find an easy fix for the migration crisis.”

In an update on the reform of the EU’s asylum policy, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said the Dublin system, which obliges refugees to seek asylum in the first European country where they arrive, was not working.