Erdogan Says Turkey May Review Refugee Deal, Relations With EU

Updated on
  • Turkey would maintain economic ties, welcome foreign investors
  • Tensions growing ahead of April referendum on executive power

Turkey may review its political ties and refugee deal with the European Union after the April referendum on a new presidential system, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“We could maintain our economic relations but from now on, we may have the need to review ties at the political and administrative level,” Erdogan, 63, said in an interview with CNN-Turk television late Thursday. The president said he’ll use terms such as “fascist” or “Nazi” to criticize Europe for as long as “they keep calling me a dictator,” and described as unacceptable some EU members’ defense of the Netherlands after it denied entry to Turkish ministers seeking to campaign ahead of the poll.

He also said Turkey would continue to welcome foreign investors even if it reconsiders its political relations with the EU. In a speech on Friday, Erdogan said he was warning rather than threatening Europe with his remarks.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

The diplomatic row with the EU risks damaging Turkey’s chances of joining the bloc. European officials have voiced their disapproval of the referendum on whether to endow Erdogan’s office with executive power, saying it would undermine democracy in the NATO member.

It has also put pressure on the refugee deal struck a year ago, under which Turkey agreed to help stem the flow of refugees from Syria in exchange for $3 billion in aid, a pledge to “re-energize” Turkey’s stalled membership talks and to secure visa-free travel for Turks in Europe’s 26-nation Schengen area.

Key Referendum

Asked whether Turkey is preparing any radical steps regarding the refugee deal, Erdogan said: “April 16 will determine many things. We will sit down with the government and review all of these A to Z.”

Erdogan is exploiting the situation to shore up nationalist support in the upcoming vote by presenting himself as a protector of Turkish interests, Anthony Skinner, a director with U.K.-based forecasting company Verisk Maplecroft, said in an email. Losing the referendum “would prolong the current crisis and increase the risk of overkill,” he said.

Read more on risks to refugee agreement

Erdogan’s comments come after the European Commission summoned Turkey’s ambassador to explain the president’s recent remarks. Erdogan said on Wednesday that if the EU doesn’t change its attitude toward Turkey, “no European, Westerner can walk safely in any part of the world,” the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.


Turkey “is now clearly increasingly retreating from Europe,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in an interview published on Friday in Luxembourg’s Tageblatt newspaper. “That’s not because the European Union wants this, but it’s the Turkish state leadership.”

“The latest developments in Turkey show that the country isn’t ready to join, unless there’s a radical change of course,” the newspaper cited Juncker as saying.

Failure by the EU and Turkey to overcome the current tensions would amount to an “historic defeat” and damage the country’s interests, the Turkish business group Tusiad said in an emailed statement. The EU accounted for 48 percent of Turkey’s exports last year, according to data from Turkey’s statistics institute.

“The Turkish government is putting domestic political considerations and the upcoming referendum ahead of bilateral relations with its largest trading partner,” James Sawyer, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London, said in an email.

— With assistance by Stephanie Bodoni

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