Turkey’s crackdown on the media and reported human rights abuses are pushing the country further away from Europe even as it hopes to join the European Union, a senior official for the bloc has said.
“The distance between us and Turkey is not decreasing; it is increasing because of human rights, the media and what is happening in civil society,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told EU lawmakers April 28, according to Reuters.
“If they want to come close to the European Union so badly let them prove that they can,” the former Dutch foreign minister said.
Human rights and media freedom groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm over the limited tolerance of dissent shown by authorities in Turkey.
Timmermans noted concerns raised by lawmakers during the session at the European Parliament about curbs on media freedoms and human rights in Turkey but argued that opening further discussions on eventual Turkish membership of the EU – an element of a Turkey-EU migrant deal – would be a way to engage Ankara and convince it to change tack.
Timmermans is a key negotiator of the widely criticized EU-Turkey agreement to stem the flow of migrants to Greece, where Turkey started taking migrants back from Greece after March 20 in exchange for the EU taking the same amount of Syrian refugees from Turkey. Turkey was also given pledges that its citizens will obtain the right to visa-free travel inside the bloc if it meets necessary criteria, as well as promises of accelerated accession talks and a total of 6 million euros of funds to be used for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Meanwhile, the EU’s humanitarian aid commissioner, Christos Stylianides, said April 28 that the highly contested EU deal with Turkey may not be ideal, but it was the only solution to stem the migration crisis.
“I know this deal remains controversial. I would like to say that there is no solution without Turkey. There is no other solution than having a deal with Turkey,” Stylianides said in Paris, according to Agence France-Presse. “We need them, they need us, that is all.”
The EU commissioner appeared in front of the French Senate where lawmakers expressed “critical doubts” about the dangers posed to the 28-member bloc which is facing the worst migration crisis in its history.
He was grilled with questions over the Turkey deal after a week in which Ankara threatened to ditch its side of the bargain if the EU failed to keep its word on the visa deal.
Stylianides described the threat as “unfortunate.”
On the same day, U.S.’ POLITICO reported that France and Germany wanted to build an “emergency brake” into future visa-free travel agreements with non-EU countries, including Turkey.
Paris and Berlin put forward a joint proposal “on a mechanism to suspend visa-free travel,” dated April 27, the newspaper reported, saying it had obtained the document.
The “current migration and refugee trends make it necessary to have an efficient mechanism in place to suspend visa liberalization,” the document was quoted as saying by POLITICO.
It said the measure would come into effect not only when too many Turks make use of arrangements but also too many Georgians, whose government is also discussing visa-free travel with the EU.
“We are looking into it. There has been much news about this topic. We will see if there really is a document but this – for us – will be changing the rules of the game afterwards. We abided by the deal. Now the ball is in their [EU’s] court,” a senior Turkish diplomatic official told the Hürriyet Daily News on April 28.