EU-Turkey migrant deal: Ankara says it has other options, Merkel not anxious

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, May 23, 2016. © Ozan Kose
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is not worried about the migrant pact between the EU and Turkey, though she admitted more time was needed to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, Ankara says it has alternatives to the EU if a deal cannot be reached.

Sticking points regarding visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU are holding up an agreement that would see Ankara take back migrants who have crossed into Europe. 

"I am not concerned, we just need more time," Merkel told reporters on Wednesday, as cited by Reuters, after a cabinet meeting just outside Berlin. 

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey would not take any steps regarding the implementation of migrant readmission until progress was made on visa liberalization. He also said funds that the EU had promised to pay Ankara for taking back refugees had not been paid. 

Turkey says it is not worried if a decision cannot be reached, with Ankara’s new EU affairs minister saying that the EU was not the “sole option.”

Omer Celik, who recently replaced Volkan Bozkir in the cabinet named by new Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, said he also wanted the EU to drop its double standards regarding the fight against terrorism. 

Turkey’s refusal to change its anti-terrorism laws has been a sore point regarding relations with the EU. Ankara says they cannot be changed due to the threat posed by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists and Kurdish militants. 

However, critics of Erdogan, along with human rights organizations, have accused the Turkish government of using the terror laws as an excuse to carry out a military crackdown against Kurds in the restive southeast of the country. 

“It’s a war crime, what happened in Cizre. There have been examples like this in other countries around the world and they were mostly condemned as war crimes. But in Turkey, a ruling power can easily commit such things and no one has the courage to condemn it,” Figen Yuksekdag, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, told RT. 

Even Germany has become worried about the hard line taken by Erdogan, with Chancellor Merkel concerned about the country’s slide from democracy after the decision to strip MPs of legal immunity. 

“I've made this clear in the conversation today that I also think we need an independent judicial system, we need independent media and we need a strong parliament," Merkel said after holding talks with Erdogan in Istanbul on Monday.