Turkish FM warns migrant pact will collapse unless EU meets committments

TAGS: Diplomacy, Interview

In an interview with Kathimerini published on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned the EU that if it doesn’t grant Turkish citizens via-free travel to Europe by October “at the latest,” then Ankara will not continue implementing a deal struck in March with Brussels to stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

“Despite the fact that irregular migration in the Aegean is now under control, we do not see the EU keen on delivering its promises,” he said, insisting that Turkey cannot continue on its own to stop irregular migration toward the EU while the latter does not assume its obligations.

“We expect visa liberalization for Turkish citizens at the latest in October 2016,” said Cavusoglu, who was on an unofficial visit to Crete yesterday and held talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, stressing the potential to further develop Greek-Turkish relations.

Visa liberalization was one of the conditions set by Turkey to sign up to the agreement, which was criticized by human rights groups, to stop the influx of migrant arrivals to Europe which reached more than a million last year.

“We did our share in this cooperation... We have prevented new loss of lives and crushed migrant smuggling rings.”

The EU missed a deadline late June for the granting of visa-free travel for Turks, saying it had not met all 72 pre-conditions set by Brussels to grant visa-fee travel. The EU also demanded Ankara review its anti-terrorism law. Ankara refused, saying it is critical in its fight against Islamic State and Kurdish militants.

Despite tensions with the EU, Cavusoglu reasserted Turkey’s ambition to become a full member of the European Union.

“We continue to uphold our commitments to the EU, aiming for full membership,” he said and dismissed claims Ankara is turning its back on the West with its recent normalization of relations with Russia.

“Turkey’s relationship with Russia is not an alternative to its partnership and alliance with the West.”

Referring to the failed coup attempt in July, the Turkish minister said it posed “an existential threat against the foundations of the Turkish Republic” and justified the sweeping purge ordered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, insisting that Turkish people from all walks of life are united behind his government’s measures to eliminate the threat posed by the organization headed by self-exiled Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen which, Cavusoglu said, had infiltrated all aspects of Turkish society. The EU has expressed concerns over the extent of the purge, fearing that it will compromise democratic values.

He also expressed hope the eight Turkish officers that fled to Greece seeking asylum after July’s attempted coup will be extradited in due course and confidence that “Greek authorities will take the right decision in accordance with their national laws and international obligations.”

As regards the UN-backed Cyprus peace talks, he expressed optimism that the decades-long division of the island will be resolved by the end of 2016, but stressed the need for the system of third country guarantees to be maintained. Both Greece and Cyprus have said a solution to the problem must not entail the anachronistic system of guarantees.

To read the full interview, click here.