German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Turkey to fulfill all of the conditions set by the European Union before its citizens can get visa-free travel by July 1st, saying the target date could be delayed due to disputes with Ankara over the country’s anti-terror law.
“It’s foreseeable that some things won’t be able to be implemented by July 1, namely visa freedom because the conditions are not yet fulfilled,” Merkel said on Monday following her meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul.
At issue is the Turkish parliament’s recent decision to strip some lawmakers of immunity, which critics have said was a step meant to sideline pro-Kurdish politicians.
At least 138 parliament members are accused of using their immunity to support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group the government accuses of “terrorism”.
Merkel said that she voiced her concern to Erdogan over “the decision to withdraw immunity from every fourth lawmaker in the Turkish parliament”, which she said is something “that causes deep concern”.
The German leader also said that Turkey needs an “independent” judiciary and media.
Turkey is obliged to meet a list of 72 criteria — ranging from biometric passports to respect for human rights — that were set when Brussels and Ankara first talked about 90-day visa-free travel to the Schengen area.
In exchange for the visa deal, Turkey has agreed to to fulfill the most controversial issue on the list: Taking back refugees, who used its territory as a springboard for reaching Europe.
But Europe has insisted that Turkey also implement a series of other reforms regarding freedom of the press and judiciary first.
“The questions I had in this connection have not been fully cleared up,” Merkel said.
Erdogan has made clear that his government will not change its counter-terror laws while the army is battling Kurdish armed groups in the southeast, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIS).
Earlier on Monday, Yigit Bulut, a top economic advisor to Erdogan, warned that Turkey could make “radical decisions” and suspend all of its agreements with the EU.
“Let them continue to apply double standards, let them continue not keeping promises made to Turkish citizens,” Bulut said. “But they should know that Turkey will make very radical decisions very soon as long as they maintain their attitude.”
Merkel and Erdogan’s meeting took place at the sideline of a humanitarian summit of world leaders in Istanbul.
During the summit, Erdogan said the burden of handling the world’s crises should be better shared.
Turkey hosts some three million refugees from the Syria and Iraq conflicts, spending $10-bn of its own budget.
“The current system falls short… the burden is shouldered only by certain countries, everyone should assume responsibility from now on,” he said.
An estimated 60 million people are displaced around the world, and at least 125 million require assistance and protection, in the biggest humanitarian crises since World War II, according to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Major countries like the United States and Russia, however, were absent from the summit, as well as major humanitarian groups like MSF.