EU and Turkey locked in war of words over refugee pact

EU urges Ankara to respect refugee pact, as Erdogan lashes out at EU Parliament for freeze on talks over membership bid.

    In March, Ankara and Brussels agreed to stop the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe [EPA]
    In March, Ankara and Brussels agreed to stop the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe [EPA]

    The head of the European Commission has said that the EU-Turkey refugee deal must be respected.

    "We made an agreement, it must be respected, and it will be," Jean-Claude Juncker, commission chief, said in an interview with Belgium's La Libre Belgique newspaper, published on Saturday. 

    Juncker was commenting on threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to end the deal after the European parliament's voted to freeze talks on Turkey's European Union (EU) membership.

    "I believe that Erdogan and his government are in the process of 'pre-blaming' Europe for the failure of its accession negotiations," he added. 

    Majority of Germans against EU-Turkey refugee deal

    On Friday, Erdogan threatened to walk away from the agreement, a day after the European Parliament angered Ankara by backing a freeze of its EU accession talks.

    On Saturday, he stepped up his criticism of Europe, warning that Turkey could extend by at least another three months a state of emergency, in effect since the failed July coup, which is opposed by Europe.

    "Maybe the state of emergency will be extended by three months, and then maybe another three months," he said. "This is a decision for the government and the parliament.

    "What's it to you?" he told the European Parliament.

    "Know your place!" he added, in an angry tirade.

    In the Belgian newspaper interview, Juncker pointed to the period from 2003-2014, while Erdogan was prime minister, when Turkey "made a lot of progress in terms of the quality of its democracy".

    But in the past two years, the country has "distanced itself from European principles and values," he said.

    Junker said the current impasse between EU and Turkey stems from Ankara's refusal to change its anti-terror legislation, a condition for membership laid down by the EU.

    "Instead of putting this failure on the European Union and Commission, Mr Erdogan would do well to start by asking himself if he is responsible for Turks not being able to freely move on European territory," he said.

    In a speech in Istanbul on Saturday, Erdogan threatened anew to bring back the death penalty against the wishes of the European Union [EPA]

    Refugee deal

    On March 18, Ankara and Brussels forged a deal for Turkey to halt the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe, an accord that has largely been successful in reducing numbers of displaced people crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

    According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just over 171,000 have crossed to Greece so far this year, much lower than the comparable figure for 2015 of almost 740,000.

    Hundreds of refugees and migrants drowned while trying to cross the Aegean in 2015 on unseaworthy boats, including three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi.

    UN says EU-Turkey refugee deal violates law

    The images of his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach spurred the international community into action, with the EU and Turkey reaching the refugee deal.

    On Saturday, Juncker pointed out that the leaders of the 28 EU nations have the final say on Turkey's bid to join the bloc and not the European Parliament.

    Still, he said Thursday's vote was a "warning sign that Turkey should not underestimate".

    But Erdogan lashed out at the decision, calling out the European Parliament's hypocrisy, noting that the body did not take any action when France put in place a state of emergency after it was hit by a string of attacks in 2015.

    "Is the European Parliament in charge of this country or is the government in charge of this country? Know your place!" he added, in an angry tirade in Istanbul.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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