Turkey Shown No EU Flexibility Over Visa-Free Travel Conditions

  • EU’s Avramopoulos says Ankara must narrow its terrorism law
  • Standoff poses a threat to EU-Turkey pact to control refugees

The European Union’s migration chief pressed Turkey to narrow its terrorism legislation to qualify for visa-free travel, signaling a united EU front in a standoff with Ankara.

The stance by European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos highlights a threat to an EU-Turkey agreement that has stemmed Europe’s biggest refugee wave since World War II. Turkey sought EU visa-free status in return for signing up to the mid-March deal, under which irregular migrants who enter the EU in Greece are sent back to Turkey and Syrian refugees in Turkish camps are resettled in Europe.

Avramopoulos reiterated that Turks can gain hassle-free travel to the EU as long as the Turkish government fulfills seven remaining criteria -- including on the terrorism law -- out of a total of 72. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled he won’t bow to the European demand over terrorism legislation, citing terror risks in Turkey that his critics say are being used as cover to jail political opponents.

“Turkey has committed to meeting the rest of the benchmarks to allow for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and we expect them to come to this commitment,” Avramopoulos told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels. “Hopefully it will be done soon.”

EU political principles are being tested by Turkish geopolitical power in the visa clash. Migrant flows into Europe via Turkey during the past year have handed Erdogan leverage over the EU, which has lambasted him for cracking down on domestic dissenters and kept Turkey’s longstanding bid for membership of the bloc largely on hold.

Along with the reintroduction of internal European border checks that shut a migratory route north from Greece, the March 18 EU agreement with Ankara has slowed to a trickle refugee sea crossings from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands -- a route used since early 2015 by about 1 million people from war-torn nations such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Arrivals in Greece number 296 so far this month compared to 1,721 in May, 3,650 in April, 26,971 in March and 57,066 in February, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

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