Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed optimism that a deal with the EU over visa-free travel for Turkish nationals can be struck by the July 1 deadline, but he ruled out any changes to the country’s controversial anti-terror legislation – a key EU condition.
Turkey and the EU have been discussing the implementation of the migrant deal and the visa-free travel for months now, but talks came to an impasse over the anti-terror issue. Brussels wants Ankara to change its anti-terror laws, claiming that the Turkish government uses the terror laws to silence its opponents. However, the government refuses to comply, arguing that Turkey needs the legislation in place to effectively counter threats posed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Islamic State and other radical groups in light of a wave of deadly terrorist attacks this year.
"We can get a positive result on the visa issue that would take into consideration Turkey's sensitivity about the struggle with terrorism,” Erdogan insisted on June 15.
However, on the same day the European Commission confirmed that Ankara had not met the outstanding benchmarks for the bloc to approve visa-free travel. “Seven requirements out of 72 have not been fulfilled and some of them were of particular importance,” said the Commission, citing among them the changes to the anti-terror law. Brussels said Turkey needs to revise the legislation and practices on terrorism in line with European standards, by better aligning the definition of terrorism in order to narrow the scope of the definition and by introducing a criterion of proportionality to prevent abuses.
“On visa liberalisation, Turkey has made spectacular progress by so far fulfilling 65 of the 72 benchmarks, but it still needs to do more,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on June 15. “We are moving ahead. Our people work together with the Turkish authorities to accomplish this goal.”
Turkey’s EU affairs minister, Omer Celik, however, recently admitted that there is little chance of completing the deal on visa-free travel by the July 1 deadline.
Also, earlier this week members of the European Parliament (MEP) raised more questions about the future of the visa-deal. If Turkey goes on undermining rule of law and stripping members of the Turkish parliament of their immunity, then it should not expect to be granted an EU visa-free regime, said MEPs from the Foreign Affairs Committee on June 14 in a debate with Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of pro-Kurdish party HDP.
Confirming the MEPs' concerns over the rule of law, the ruling Justice and Development Party prepared a draft bill that would give Erdogan more powers over the judiciary. Under the judicial reform package bill, the president will be able to choose 24 members of the 96-seat Council of State all on his own, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Erdogan signed a controversial immunity bill earlier this month that critics say will only tighten his grip on power and is aimed at removing the HDP from parliament. The bill will pave the way for the possible prosecution of members of the HDP on terror-related charges. 50 of the HDP's 59 lawmakers could now face trials. The bill also targets 51 lawmakers from the main opposition party CHP, enabling prosecutions of them on a range of charges, including insulting the president.
In a sign of increased pressure on the HDP, police raided the house of Figen Yuksekdag, co-chair of the Kurdish party, as part of an operation against an alleged illegal radical leftist group. The police, reportedly, raided her house to arrest a woman who shares the apartment with Yuksekdag. The HDP condemned the raid and demanded an investigation.