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EU foreign ministers urged Turkey to honor European human rights norms but noted its significance for the European Union, ahead of a meeting Saturday aimed at easing tensions that could sink a deal with Ankara meant to keep migrants from reaching European shores.
Speaking as they gathered for talks with Turkish EU affairs minister Omar Celik, several ministers appeared keen to walk a fine line between pushing Turkey to heed their concerns without further worsening relations.
Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said the 28 ministers have “a common understanding … what are our expectations from Turkey and what Turkey expects from us.”
Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister, called Turkey “very important for the solution of current challenges facing Europe and the world,” adding: “There are many, many reasons we have to talk.”
But Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Raynders pulled no punches in his criticism of the crackdown on wide segments of Turkish society following July’s abortive coup.
“When you have seen the number of arrests, the developments in the country, we are worried,” he said, expressing particular concern about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s flirtation with reintroducing the death penalty. That, he said, would spell “the end of … (Turkey’s) hopes for joining the European Union.”
With the two sides far apart in their expectations, hopes appeared modest for Saturday’s talks.
Turkey is pushing for visa-free travel in the EU for its citizens and is threatening to walk away from the migrant deal if its demands aren’t met. But Brussels says it will allow that only if Ankara rolls back its crackdown on suspected coup supporters.
The agreement commits Turkey to take back migrants from Syria and elsewhere attempting to enter the EU from Turkey illegally and has strongly reduced the migrant influx into the EU since it was fully implemented in March.
Ankara is also angry over calls by several EU government officials to suspend, or even end, more than a decade of talks on Turkey’s entry into the EU, again because of concerns about the state of human rights, including extending an anti-terrorist law that could be applied to critical journalists.