Turkey could walk away from a promise to stem the flow of refugees to Europe if the European Union (EU) fails to grant Turks visa-free travel to the bloc in October, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a German newspaper.
His comments in Bild’s Monday edition coincided with rising tensions between Ankara and the West that have been exacerbated by a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15.
Turkey is incensed by what it sees as an insensitive response from Western allies to the attempted putsch, in which 240 people were killed.
Long wary of Turkey’s ambitions to join the EU, some European countries have expressed concern over a huge number of arrests since the coup, implying President Tayyip Erdogan is using it to quash dissent.
The unease has also hurt relations between Turkey and Austria and Sweden, with Ankara summoning diplomats from both countries to protest against what it says are false reports about changes to its child abuse laws.
Asked whether hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey would head to Europe if the EU did not grant Turks visa freedom from October, Cavusoglu told Bild: “I don’t want to talk about the worst-case scenario – talks with the EU are continuing but it’s clear that we either apply all treaties at the same time or we put them all aside.”
Visa-free access to the EU – the main reward for Ankara’s cooperation with choking of a flow of people to Europe – has been delayed because of a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism legislation, as well as the post-coup arrests.
Brussels wants Turkey to soften the anti-terrorism law. Ankara, though, says it cannot do so, given multiple security threats which include the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant presence in neighbouring Syria and Kurdish fighters in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.
European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has said he does not see the EU granting Turks visa-free travel this year because of Ankara’s sweeping arrests, which have seen more than 35,000 people held over alleged involvement in the coup.
Cavusoglu said the deal with the EU stipulated that all Turks would get visa freedom in October, adding: “It can’t be that we implement everything that is good for the EU but that Turkey gets nothing in return.”
A spokesman for the European Commission declined to comment on the interview directly but said the EU continued to work together with Turkey in all areas of cooperation.