Expert-level talks ongoing in Brussels to overcome terror impasse with Turkey: EU envoy

Expert-level talks ongoing in Brussels to overcome terror impasse with Turkey: EU envoy

Serkan Demirtaş – ANKARA
Expert-level talks ongoing in Brussels to overcome terror impasse with Turkey: EU envoy

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The European Union’s top envoy to Ankara has said the European Commission is currently working with experts to find an acceptable solution to the impasse with Turkey over the definition of terror, expressing optimism for successfully accomplishing the visa liberalization process by the end of June. 

“Turkey has long been mature for visa liberalization. I personally feel we had to do it much long ago. I still remain optimistic that we will eventually manage it. It will also come as a positive surprise for Turks who believed that it won’t ever happen,” Hansjörg Haber, the head of the EU delegation, told Ankara newspaper bureau chiefs on May 12 in the capital. 

A comprehensive agreement that also included visa waivers for Turkish citizens reached between Turkey and the EU to stop the influx of migrants towards the European continent is at risk of collapse due to a disagreement over the former’s definition of terrorism, which needs to be solved before the end of June.

Harmonizing the legal framework over terrorism is one of five remaining benchmarks of 72 that Turkey needs to fulfill, although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made clear that Turkey won’t change its legislation at a time it is fighting against terror. Erdoğan’s statements received a reaction from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said visas wouldn’t be lifted for Turks before all criteria were met. 

Despite strongly-worded statements from both sides, the European Commission is still working to find an acceptable solution so that the process can continue, Haber stressed, adding that Brussels was not demanding a complete overhaul of its legislation from Turkey but rather some steps to avoid the concerns of member states on a number of practical issues. 

“[The] Turkish notion of terrorism is much wider than our countries’. For example, people indicted of terror crimes in Turkey can be counted as [using] freedom of expression. And then this person under visa liberalization can go to Europe and can apply for asylum and most probably be accepted. This is not the only concern but just an example [of] why we need this kind of harmonization,” he said. 

A similar harmonization was also needed on the data protection issue, the ambassador explained, repeating his optimism that the process would not be derailed. Experts were working in Brussels to find a way to solve the problem within a certain understanding of flexibility, the ambassador said, however he also noted the green light still belonged to the result of the vote at the European Parliament and to the final approval of the European Council. 

Although there were disagreements over how terrorism should be defined, the ambassador said the EU listed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on its list of terrorist organizations and that cooperation between the two sides was ongoing in the fight against terror. 

‘EU strikes agreements with states, not individuals’

One of the most important factors deepening the disagreement between the two parties was the sudden departure of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was committed to accomplishing the process by the end of June, as suggested by the agreement in March. However, when asked about the effect of Davutoğlu’s leave, Haber said, “We strike agreements with states and not with individuals.”

In further remarks, the EU envoy recalled that Erdoğan was the prime minister in December 2013 when the two sides agreed over visa liberalization and the readmission agreement. “[The] visa road map was agreed [to] in 2013 when the president was still the prime minister. It [the visa road map] has not changed. What have changed were the deadlines of the implementation. This was agreed by Prime Minister Davutoğlu. But I should stress that all processes started with the president’s visit to Brussels,” he said. 

“We are dealing with states. Both the president and the prime minister were involved and the future prime minister will also be involved. We hope that agreement will be kept even [if] there will be changes in [the Turkish] government,” he added. 

The ambassador also emphasized that visa liberalization was not a result of the migration crisis or pressure but rather a part of the visionary approach of the EU to Turkey. 

Strong statements from Turkish officials over the fate of the migrant deal have caused concerns in the EU and some member states but the ambassador said these wouldn’t change the EU’s basic position.