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Why Turkey's terror law is the 'Achilles heel' of the EU-Turkey visa deal

Patrick Hertzog, AFP | Turkey's Minister of EU Affairs, Volkan Bozkir, on March 11, 2016, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France

Turkey's anti-terror laws have become an "Achilles heel" that threatens to unravel the EU-Turkey visa deal, Turkey's minister for EU affairs said on Friday.

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Turkey's EU minister on Friday said he was not hopeful about the prospect of realising a deal with the European Union on granting Turks visa-free access to most of the bloc.

"At this stage I would not say we are very hopeful," EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir told Turkish reporters in televised comments in Brussels following talks with EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn. "This [the Turkish anti-terror law] is the Achilles heel."

Bozkir met with Hahn and other top EU officials on Friday to try resolve the impasse that threatens a deal aimed at stopping the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe.

The promise of visa-free European travel for Turks is a key incentive in the migrant deal, but Turkey says the EU must change its conditions for the visa concession.

“It's essential that the European Commission find a new formula” for visa-free travel for Turks, Bozkir added.

EU ‘hypocrisy’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made even more harsh comments on Thursday, accusing the European Union of "hypocrisy" for telling Ankara to adapt its counter-terror laws in return for visa-free travel while it was in the throes of fighting Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels.

"Since when are you running this country? Who has given you the authority?" Erdogan said.

EU officials, though, say it’s up to Turkey to fulfill key conditions on Turkish terrorism, corruption and data protection laws if they want the migrants-for-visas deal to move forward.

"We consider that it is important for these conditions to be fulfilled, otherwise this deal between the EU and Turkey will not happen," Juncker said in Berlin on Thursday.

"If Mr Erdogan wants to pursue his strategy, then he has to answer to the Turkish people why Europe is denying free travel to Turks. That's not my problem, that will be his problem."

No concessions on terrorism

The sticking point is Turkey’s anti-terrorism law, which the EU says is too broad and must be tightened before the EU can grant Turks visa-free travel.

The EU wants Ankara to sharply narrow its definition of "terror" to prevent recent cases like the prosecution of academics and journalists for publishing "terror propaganda".

Bozkir said on Friday that Turkey's anti-terror law was "no worse" than other countries, but Turkish prosecutors have opened more than 1,800 cases against people for insulting Erdogan since he became president in 2014, including journalists, cartoonists and teenagers.

But Turkey says the broad anti-terror laws are necessary in the context of suicide bombings like the ones that took place this week in Istanbul and Diyarbakir, and the Turkish military’s ongoing battle against the PKK in the Kurdish-majority southeast.

"Every country has things on which it can give ground and things on which it can't,” Bozkir said, referring to the terror laws.

Deal already working

Under the EU-Turkey deal, agreed on in March, migrants arriving on Greek islands on or after March 20 faced deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully applied for asylum in Greece - something the vast majority are reluctant to do in a financially stricken country where about a quarter of the workforce is unemployed.

EU-Turkey deal leads to 90 percent drop in migrant arrivals in Greece, officials say

Some officials say the deal is already working. The Frontex border agency said fewer than 2,700 people had entered Greece in April, a 90 percent drop from the previous month. It attributed the decline to the effect of the EU-Turkey deal and tight border controls at the Greek Macedonia border, which has been shut to migrants since early March.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP, AP)
 

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