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.
Top EU delegates and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to visit the Turkish-Syrian border to promote a controversial month-old refugee deal.
The visit comes amid questions over the legality of the EU-Turkey pact, which deports back to Turkey refugees who do not qualify for asylum in Greece.
However, human rights groups say Turkey is not a safe place to return people.
Turkish officials have warned the deal could collapse if demands for visa-free EU travel for its citizens are not met.
The agreement says Turkey must meet 72 conditions by May 4 to earn the visa waiver, but diplomats say only half of those points have been met so far.
Angela Merkel is expected to visit a refugee camp in the southern city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, where she will meet Turkey’s PM Ahmet Davutoglu.
The German chancellor will travel with the European Council President, Donald Tusk, and the EU Commission Vice-President, Frans Timmermans.
Angela Merkel has faced opposition in Germany for her migration policies and has defended the deal with Turkey despite opposition from some European partners.
Her trip comes as she faces additional pressure for agreeing to the prosecution of German comedian Jan Boehmermann accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Advocates of freedom of speech in both Turkey and Germany have called on Angela Merkel to send out a strong message on the issue during her visit.
The goal of the EU-Turkey deal is to deter refugees, mainly Syrians and Iraqis, from making the crossing between Turkey and Greece.
Under the agreement, refugees who have arrived illegally in Greece since March 20 are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.
For each Syrian migrant returned to Turkey, the EU is due to take in another Syrian who has made a legitimate request.
The scheme has reduced sharply the number of arrivals, from more than 56,000 in February to around 7,800 over the past 30 days, according to the European Commission.
However, the International Organization of Migration said unofficial data for arrivals in Greece in recent days suggested the numbers were picking up again.
The promised relocation to EU countries seems to be slow as nations are reluctant to take in more refugees – 103 Syrians have been resettled from Turkey to Europe, the commission said.
In March 2016, EU border agency Frontex requested 1,550 extra staff to help oversee the deal, but so far only 340 police officers and experts have been sent.
Rights organizations have attacked the scheme, with Amnesty International saying that Turkey has illegally returned Syrians to their country, a charge Ankara denies.
The EU has pledged up to $6.8 billion in aid to Turkey over the next four years.
Ankara, however, expects more, including visa liberalization, a point which faces opposition of some EU members.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month: “If the European Union does not take the steps it needs to take, if it does not fulfill its pledges, then Turkey won’t implement this agreement.”
Turkey already hosts some 2.7 million Syrian refugees, at a cost of over $10 billion, the government says.