Turkey refused on Wednesday to make changes to its anti-terrorism laws demanded by Brussels, hardening Ankara’s position in a stand-off with the bloc over dealing with militants, migrants and travel.
EU officials and rights groups have accused Turkey of using the broad anti-terror legislation to crush all dissent – though Ankara says it needs the laws to battle Kurdish militants at home and Islamic State in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.
The EU said last week Turkey still had to change some laws, including narrowing its legal definition of terrorism, to secure visa-free travel for its citizens – part of a wide-ranging deal to secure Turkish help in reducing the flow of migrants into Europe.
But Ankara’s minister for EU affairs, Volkan Bozkir, told broadcaster NTV on Wednesday that there had been no deal to change the terrorism laws in exchange for visa-free travel, and said the legislation already met EU standards.
“It is not possible for us to accept any changes to the counter-terrorism law,” Bozkir said.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told the European Union on Friday that Turkey would not make the changes, declaring: “we’re going our way, you go yours”.
Wednesday’s repeated refusal, and assertion that there had never been a reciprocal deal over the laws, will likely alarm EU officials already worried by the departure of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, seen as a more flexible negotiating partner.
One Erdogan adviser and a member of parliament for the ruling AK Party, Burhan Kuzu, tweeted late on Tuesday: “The European Parliament will discuss the report that will open Europe visa-free for Turkish citizens. If the wrong decision is taken, we will send the refugees.”
Europe is counting on Turkey to maintain the migration deal that has helped to sharply reduce the flow of refugees and migrants via Turkish shores. More than a million people used the route to reach Greece and Italy last year.