ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) said he wanted the European Union to grant Turks visa-free travel to the passport-free Schengen area by October at the latest.
“The promise that was made was for the month of October this year,” Erdogan said in a televised speech. “I hope they will keep the promise that they made and close this issue by October at the latest.”
Erdogan’s outgoing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had previously suggested June as the deadline, but the comments by the president indicate he expects Brussels to come good on its commitment.
The European Commission last week recommended that Turks enjoy visa-free travel but Turkey must still meet five more benchmarks to complete the EU’s list of 72 criteria.
Crucial among these are changes to anti-terror law as well as protection of personal data.
But Erdogan reaffirmed a warning last week that Ankara had no intention of changing its anti-terror legislation to placate Brussels.
In apparent reference to tents set up by Kurdish activists near the EU Council building in Brussels in March, he asked why “terrorists” were allowed to pitch camp outside the building.
“First give an answer to that” before Turkey examines its anti-terror laws, said Erdogan.
The promise of visa-free travel is a key pillar of the landmark March deal between Ankara and the European Union under which Turkey would help reduce the flow of migrants to the bloc in exchange for incentives.
The deal was championed by Davutoglu and his scheduled departure from the post of premier after a May 22 ruling party congress has sparked concerns over whether Turkey will honor the accord.
Analysts have warned the problem of the anti-terror legislation—with Turkey in the throes of a major campaign against Kurdish militants—risks stymieing the deal with the EU.
The deal has already seen the number of migrants crossing the Aegean from Turkey to Greece fall sharply.
“Pardon me but we are going our way and you can go yours,” Erdogan had told the EU Friday in remarks likely to have caused considerable alarm in Brussels.
Another key part of the deal is a transfer of three billion euros in funds for the estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey but Erdogan has complained that the funds had yet to arrive.
Tensions had already been surging between Erdogan and the West over accusations the president was imposing a creeping authoritarianism over the country he has ruled as Premier from 2003 and as President from 2014.
After the departure of Davutoglu, Erdogan is determined to realize his dream of creating a presidential system in Turkey that would cement his status as number one, a plan for which the outgoing premier had only shown lukewarm enthusiasm.