Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister, Omer Celik, has yet again said his country cannot overhaul its counter-terrorism laws in return for visa-free travel facilities for Turks. The much-derided quid pro quo forms part of the deal reached in March to stem the influx of Syrian refugees into Greece.
Mr. Celik’s tough talk, coming in the wake of the failed coup in Turkey last month, will comfort nobody and surprise none. Many elements of the agreement between Brussels and Ankara on the deportation back to Turkey of large numbers of Syrian refugees who get to European shores already remains suspended de facto following the crushed rebellion, as noted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
This suspension is obviously of concern to the EU. For the March deal had led to a substantial reduction in the flow of migrants, falling from a daily average of about 1,700 prior to the agreement to as few as 48 by June, according to official figures. Mr. Celik’s reasoning against any relaxation of counter-terrorism provisions is that the exiled cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whose followers allegedly masterminded the coup attempt, is a terrorist in the eyes of Turkey’s government. Even assuming the allegations against the cleric are merited, the argument that protection against extremism can be enforced only through repression is a disingenuous one.
Such an assertion at best gives a handle to the potent politics of anti-immigration that has fed into the already toxic atmosphere of Euroscepticism in parts of the 28-country bloc. Its most serious ramification was felt when Britain recently voted in a referendum to leave the EU, emboldening right-wing parties in France and the Netherlands.
Against this backdrop, hard-line right-wing resistance against the grant of visa-free travel facilities for those holding Turkish passports was perhaps to be expected. The EU’s Schengen visa-free travel area, covering more than 20 countries, made it possible for migrants reaching European shores to move to destinations of their choice with ease. One of the fundamental principles of the bloc thus became a bone of contention among some of the founding-members and more recent entrants.
Some among the latter began to barricade their borders, much to the chagrin of EU leaders. In the absence of a concerted approach to deal with the refugee crisis, the move to allow Turks to travel without visas was always going to be controversial. The EU continues to drag its feet over the issue. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, long reviled by Europe for his authoritarian inclinations, is clearly in no mood to be deterred by pious sermons after the failed coup.