European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Aug. 21 that Turkish citizens would only be granted visa-free travel to EU countries from October if Ankarameets all the requirements, including reforming anti-terror laws. Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said his government could stop helping to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe if the 28-nation bloc failed to relax travel rules for Turks from October.
His comments coincided with increased tensions between Brussels and Ankara following the failed July 15 coup in Turkey. Europe has been alarmed by a crackdown since the coup and has long worried that Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws are applied too broadly to quash dissenters and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“The question of visa-free travel, which is directly connected to the agreement on handling refugees, can be implemented on Oct. 1 only if all the conditions are met,” Juncker told the European Alpbach forum, an annual conference in Austria, according to Reuters.
“Anti-terror laws cannot be used to imprison intellectuals, scientists and journalists. That is not the fight against terror that we mean,” he added.
Turkey and the EU agreed on a migrant deal in mid-March in which Turkey agreed to help curb the flow of migrants into the bloc in exchange for visa-free travel for its citizens to the bloc, EU funds for Syrian migrants in Turkey, and accelerated membership talks.
Brussels wants Turkey to soften the legislation but Ankara has refused, saying the laws are vital to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levanr (ISIL) and the outlawedKurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which it is in an armed conflict since the mid-1980s.
Turkey, meanwhile, is furious over the EU’s cautious response to the failed coup attempt, in which 240 people were killed. Turkey says the EU and U.S. have not stood enough by the country in the aftermath of the failed toppling attempt.
Since the coup, more than 17,000 people have been placed under formal arrest, and tens of thousands more suspended from their jobs.
Turkish authorities blame the failed attempt on U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and his followers. Gülen denies involvement and has condemned the coup attempt.