EU, Turkey can still save migrant deal, says Turkish envoy
The European Union and Turkey have overcome strains in the past and can still save a crucial deal stemming migrant flows to Europe, Ankara’s envoy to Brussels said Wednesday.
In an interview with AFP, Turkey's ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, said the EU should also not fear it will lose out from Ankara’s rapprochement with Moscow at Tuesday's summit in Saint Petersburg.
“I am always an optimist,” Yenel said when asked about prospects for the migrant deal as the two sides prepare to resume contacts after the August holidays.
“When September comes, I think we can manage to find a way out,” he said.
EU leaders have expressed mounting fears that the deal, sealed in March, could collapse as a rift deepens over Ankara’s crackdown on tens of thousands of people after last month's failed coup.
Turkey has angrily rejected EU criticism that its post-putsch purges might violate rights norms Ankara must meet under the agreement in return for visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated negotiations for bloc membership.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday accused the EU of having “adopted a favorable position to the coup (and) encouraged the putschists.” He did not elaborate.
Brussels has also fired a shot across Ankara’s bow by warning that reinstating the death penalty in the wake of the coup would torpedo its bid for EU membership.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will approve any decision by parliament to restore capital punishment that was abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey's efforts to join the 28-nation bloc.
Yenel said the vehement EU reaction was premature.
“We are just debating it. It's not even in the parliament. We know our international obligation. We know what will happen if the death penalty is accepted,” the ambassador said.
Ankara has warned it could withdraw from the migrant accord if Europe fails to allow visa-free travel for Turks by October.
Under the migrant plan, Turkey agreed to take back Syrians who make it to Greece, in return for being allowed to send one from its massive refugee camps to the EU in a more orderly redistribution program.
Yenel dismissed speculation that Ankara’s ties with the west could be at risk after Erdogan visited Russia on Tuesday to mend fences with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
“I am surprised that people are worried about our rapprochement,” he said.
Several European countries have closer energy and trade ties with Moscow than Ankara despite EU sanctions over Russian actions in Ukraine, he argued.
Yenel recalled that relations between Ankara’s and Brussels went through “much worse” in 1997 when Turkey stopped all political dialogue with the EU for two years when it was excluded from talks that saw Poland and other eastern European countries eventually join the bloc.
“We’ve all gone through difficult periods. This is not that bad,” Yenel said.