Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan ratcheted up the pressure on Europe over a landmark migrants deal on Thursday, accusing the bloc of setting new hurdles for visa-free travel and threatening Ankara may go its own way if they failed to agree.
In Berlin, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also dug in his heels, saying the agreement would collapse unless Ankara fulfilled its commitments, including making agreed changes to its anti-terror law.
The stand-off has cast doubts on the future of the agreement, designed to give Turks visa-free travel to Europe in return for stemming the flow of illegal migrants. Brussels is desperate for it to succeed, but insists Turkey meets 72 criteria, including narrowing its legal definition of terrorism.
The EU and rights groups have accused Turkey of using its broad anti-terrorism laws to stifle dissent while Ankara says it needs the laws to battle Kurdish militants at home and Islamic State in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.
“We had finished the issue of visa free travel with EU, we had inked the deal, then they came up with these 72 criteria and included the counter-terror laws in it,” Erdogan said.
Telling Turkey to soften its counter-terrorism laws was tantamount to asking it to give up its struggle against terrorism, he said in a speech.
“Either we will improve our relations with the EU, or we will set a new path for ourselves. We prefer to build the new Turkeywith our EU friends, but now we will wait for the decision of our EU friends.”
But a combative Juncker showed no signs of giving ground.
“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.”