Readmission Agreement not to be implemented if visa-free travel not granted to Turkish citizens, says EU Minister Çelik

MERVE AYDOĞAN @mgulaydogan

Despite Turkey's current political agenda being heavily occupied by Operation Euphrates Shield and the Mosul operation, the Turkey-EU agreement including visa liberalization, readmission agreement and a refugee deal continues to top the agenda of Turkish foreign policy as EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Ömer Çelik stressed once more that Turkey will not implement the readmission agreement if visa-free travel is not granted to Turkish citizens by the end of the year.

Turkish-European relations have been strained especially following EU member states failing to condemn the coup attempt on the night of July 15 and empathize with Turkey in its righteous combat against the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). While Turkey continues to combat FETÖ, the PKK/PYD, Daesh and other terror groups domestically and abroad, the EU also continues to insist on Turkey to alter its counterterrorism law in order to grant visa-free travel for its citizens. In this respect, Minister Çelik reaffirmed on Wednesday during a joint press conference in Ankara with U.K. Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Sir Alan Duncan that "If visa liberalization is not implement then we will not put the readmission agreement into effect anyway. Though the intended schedule had already passed, if it is not implemented [referring to visa-free travel] by the end of the year then the process will eventually experience natural death."

The ongoing Syria crisis along with the regional instability have caused a heavy influx of refugees at the borders of Turkey for five years now, resulting in more than a million migrants entering the EU last year by taking boats from Turkey to Greece. The EU and Turkey then made a refugee deal on March 18, in which the EU benefited from to a great extent this summer as the deal led to a drastic reduction in migrants crossing the Aegean Sea according to the European Commission data. However, the deal that was to provide visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU while accelerating EU membership talks is in a deadlock over the EU insisting Turkey to change its anti-terrorism law while EU Minister Çelik stressed on Wednesday that such an amendment would only cause further threats against Turkey's national security, reminding of the ongoing terror threats domestically and regionally.

Çelik reminded that Turkey had been keeping its promises, with illegal arrivals on the Greek islands dropping to 20-30 people a day from a peak of 7,000 in 2015. "If there is a working part of the deal, it is because of the working quality of Turkish institutions. It is thanks to the [Turkish] security forces and coast guard," he said.Reminding that the EU had failed to address the largest refugee crisis in history, Çelik further criticized European states for not keeping their promises as the mechanisms for the Turkey – EU agreement were extremely inert. He also noted that the EU can only address the refugee crisis in cooperation with Turkey. "Changing our terror laws are being discussed [as a prerequisite] for visa liberalization in times when FETÖ is attacking Turkey along with the PKK and Daesh.

Turkish troops entered Jarablus in efforts to combat Daesh which even the coalition, comprising of 55-65 countries, hasn't been able to do so. For the first time, European and NATO borders have been eliminated of Daesh and this is our success," Çelik added.

While Turkish officials have numerously urged the EU to immediately implement visa-free travel for Turks, Çelik added that the readmission agreement would mean nothing if there was no visa-free travel and that Turkey would go as far as suspending the readmission agreement. As part of the second visit by UK Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan within this year, he said: "We, Turkey and the United Kingdom, have entered an exciting and developing period."

Duncan was one of the first Western allies of Turkey to visit and express solidarity, support to the government following the failed coup attempt by FETÖ. Sir Duncan said during his current visit that Turkey had gone through rough months. On the contrary to the EU, the British minister also expressed support to Turkey in its fight against terrorism. During his visit, he also met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, followed by a visit to Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in a closed-door meeting, which lasted nearly an hour at the Çankaya Palace.

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