EU-Turkey deal under threat over terror laws
Top European Union and German officials made clear yesterday that Turkey must back off from its refusal to change its anti-terror laws if it hopes to secure visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens.
Turkey's president again lashed out at the EU for the demand, deepening a stand-off on an issue that threatens to derail an EU-Turkey accord under which Ankara agreed to stop migrants leaving for Europe and take back those who do arrive.
The visa waiver is one of the incentives offered by the EU and Turkey has to fulfill 72 conditions to secure it.
Ankara has complied with most of them, but one has emerged as a major obstacle.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others say Ankara won't narrow its definition of "terrorist" and "terrorist act". EU nations worry that the current laws can be used to target journalists and political dissenters.
Mr Erdogan has warned that the entire migrant deal could collapse if the Europeans renege on their pledges.
Prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a key architect of the deal, announced last week that he would step down later this month.
Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier acknowledged: "We have a strong interest in this agreement on migration not collapsing."
However, he said: "The ball is in Turkey's court."
The head of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking at a forum on European policy in Berlin, said Brussels was counting on Turkey sticking to the conditions - including the changes to anti-terror laws.
"That's how we agreed it with Turkey and the consequence of the change in the office of the Turkish prime minister cannot be that agreements between the EU and Turkey are disavowed," he said. "We put the greatest value on the conditions being fulfilled, otherwise this deal will not happen.
"If Mr Erdogan is pursuing the strategy of denying Turks the right to free travel to Europe, then he will have to take responsibility for that to the Turkish people," Mr Juncker added. "That isn't my problem. It will be his problem."
Mr Erdogan said: "In the upcoming period, we will either strengthen our relations with the European Union and finalise this process or we will find ourselves a new path.
"Our preference is to build a new Turkey together with our European friends. We shall now wait for our European friends' decision.
"They are saying we should soften our stance on the fight against terrorism," said Mr Erdogan, adding: "Since when have you started to govern Turkey? Who gave you the authority?"