Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told the European Union that his country will not change its anti-terror laws in return for visa-free travel.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We’ll go our way, you go yours.”
In response, the EU says Turkey needs to narrow its definition of terrorism to qualify for visa-free travel – which is part of a larger deal between the sides aimed at easing Europe’s migration crisis.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan was speaking a day after Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who largely negotiated the EU deal, said he was stepping down.
Ahmet Davutoglu had also reportedly opposed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to give more power to the presidency. The president said the proposed constitutional changes were a national need, not a personal requirement.
The wide-ranging EU-Turkey deal involves the return of refugees, mainly Syrians, from Greece to Turkey, along with increased aid and other measures.
One of these is to allow Turkish citizens visa-free travel for short stays in the EU’s Schengen area which comprises 22 EU and four non-EU members.
However, the EU wants Turkey to narrow its broad definition of terrorism to match tighter EU standards. It is one of five EU criteria Turkey still has to agree to in order to meet the visa-free requirements.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected this, saying in a TV speech on May 6: “Turkey, when it’s under attack from terrorist organizations from all sides, the European Union is telling us to change the anti-terror law in exchange for the visa deal.”
Referring to tents erected by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, near the EU parliament in Brussels, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “You [the EU] will let terrorists build tents and provide them with opportunities in the name of democracy.
“And then [you] will tell us ‘if you change this [anti-terrorism legislation], I will lift the visas’. Sorry, we’ll go our way, you go yours.”
In recent months, the Turkish government has used the terms “terrorist” or “terrorist supporter” to prosecute critics including journalists, suggesting they are supporting Kurdish militants or other armed organizations.
If Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not meet the EU requirements, the European Parliament and EU leaders will not vote on the visa waiver at the end of June.
Another part of the EU-Turkey deal had been to hold new talks on Turkish accession to the EU.
However, analysts say Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been less convinced of EU alignment than Ahmet Davutoglu, and he will certainly be a tougher negotiator.